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THE  LIBRARY  OF  LIVING  PHILOSOPHERS 
Volume  VI 


THE  PHILOSOPHY   OF 
ERNST    CASSIRER 


THE  LIBRARY  OF  LIVING  PHILOSOPHERS 
PAUL  ARTHUR  SCHILPP,  Editor 


Already  Published: 

THE  PHILOSOPHY  OF  JOHN  DEWEY  (1939) 

THE  PHILOSOPHY  OF  GEORGE  SANTAYANA  (1940) 

THE  PHILOSOPHY  OF  ALFRED  NORTH  WHITEHEAD  (1941) 

THE  PHILOSOPHY  OF  G.  E.  MOORE  (1942) 

THE  PHILOSOPHY  OF  BERTRAND  RUSSELL  (1944) 

THE  PHILOSOPHY  OF  ERNST  CASSIRER  (1949) 


In  Preparation: 

ALBERT   EINSTEIN:   P  H  IL  O  S  O  P  H  E  R-  S  C  I  E  N  TI  ST 

THE  PHILOSOPHY   OF   BENEDETTO   CROCE 

THE   PHILOSOPHY   OF  SARVEPALLI    R  AD  H  AKRI  S  H  N  AN 

THE   PHILOSOPHY   OF   KARL   JASPERS 

Other  volumes  to  be  announced  later 


THE  LIBRARY  OF  LIVING  PHILOSOPHERS 
Volume  VI 


THE   PHILOSOPHY 

OF 

ERNST  CASSIRER 

EDITED  BY 
PAUL  ARTHUR  SCHILPP 


1949 
THE  LIBRARY  OF  LIVING  PHILOSOPHERS,  INC. 


THE   PHILOSOPHY   OF   ERNST  CASSIRER 

Copyright,  1949,  by  The  Library  of  Living  Philosophers,  Inc. 
Printed  in  the  United  States  of  America 


FIRST  EDITION 
A-F 


GEORGE  BANTA  PUBLISHING  COMPANY,  MENASHA,  WISCONSIN 


GENERAL  INTRODUCTrt>& 

TO 

"THE  LIBRARY  OF  LIVING  PHILOSOPHERS" 

A  CCORDING  to  the  late  F.  C.  S.  Schiller,  the  greatest  ob- 
JTj\.  stacle  to  fruitful  discussion  in  philosophy  is  "the  curious 
etiquette  which  apparently  taboos  the  asking  of  questions  about 
a  philosopher's  meaning  while  he  is  alive."  The  "interminable 
controversies  which  fill  the  histories  of  philosophy,"  he  goes  on 
to  say,  "could  have  been  ended  at  once  by  asking  the  living  phi- 
losophers a  few  searching  questions." 

The  confident  optimism  of  this  last  remark  undoubtedly  goes 
too  far.  Living  thinkers  have  often  been  asked  "a  few  searching 
questions,"  but  their  answers  have  not  stopped  "interminable 
controversies"  about  their  real  meaning.  It  is  none  the  less 
true  that  there  would  be  far  greater  clarity  of  understanding 
than  is  now  often  the  case,  if  more  such  searching  questions  had 
been  directed  to  great  thinkers  while  they  were  still  alive. 

This,  at  any  rate,  is  the  basic  thought  behind  the  present  un- 
dertaking. The  volumes  of  The  Library  of  Living  Philosophers 
can  in  no  sense  take  the  place  of  the  major  writings  of  great 
and  original  thinkers.  Students  who  would  know  the  philoso- 
phies of  such  men  as  John  Dewey,  George  Santayana,  Alfred 
North  Whitehead,  Benedetto  Croce,  G.  E.  Moore,  Bertrand 
Russell,  Ernst  Cassirer,  Etienne  Gilson,  Karl  Jaspers,  et  al., 
will  still  need  to  read  the  writings  of  these  men.  There 
is  no  substitute  for  first-hand  contact  with  the  original  thought 
of  the  philosopher  himself.  Least  of  all  does  this  Library  pre- 
tend to  be  such  a  substitute.  The  Library  in  fact  will  spare 
neither  effort  nor  expense  in  offering  to  the  student  the  best 

*  This  General  Introduction,  setting  forth  the  underlying  conception  of  this 
Library,  is  purposely  reprinted  in  each  volume  (with  only  very  minor  changes). 

vii 


viii        THE  LIBRARY  OF  LIVING  PHILOSOPHERS 

possible  guide  to  the  published  writings  of  a  given  thinker.  We 
shall  attempt  to  meet  this  aim  by  providing  at  the  end  of  each 
volume  in  our  series  a  complete  bibliography  of  the  published 
work  of  the  philosopher  in  question.  Nor  should  one  overlook 
the  fact  that  the  essays  in  each  volume  cannot  but  finally  lead 
to  this  same  goal.  The  interpretative  and  critical  discussions  of 
the  various  phases  of  a  great  thinker's  work  and,  most  of  all, 
the  reply  of  the  thinker  himself,  are  bound  to  lead  the  reader 
to  the  works  of  the  philosopher  himself. 

At  the  same  time,  there  is  no  blinking  the  fact  that  different 
experts  find  different  ideas  in  the  writings  of  the  same  philoso- 
pher. This  is  as  true  of  the  appreciative  interpreter  and  grateful 
disciple  as  it  is  of  the  critical  opponent.  Nor  can  it  be  denied 
that  such  differences  of  reading  and  of  interpretation  on  the 
part  of  other  experts  often  leave  the  neophyte  aghast  before 
the  whole  maze  of  widely  varying  and  even  opposing  interpreta- 
tions. Who  is  right  and  whose  interpretation  shall  he  accept? 
When  the  doctors  disagree  among  themselves,  what  is  the  poor 
student  to  do?  If,  finally,  in  desperation,  he  decides  that  all  of 
the  interpreters  are  probably  wrong  and  that  the  only  thing  for 
him  to  do  is  to  go  back  to  the  original  writings  of  the  philoso- 
pher himself  and  then  make  his  own  decision — uninfluenced  (as 
if  this  were  possible!)  by  the  interpretation  of  any  one  else — 
the  result  is  not  that  he  has  actually  come  to  the  meaning  of  the 
original  philosopher  himself,  but  rather  that  he  has  set  up  one 
more  interpretation,  which  may  differ  to  a  greater  or  lesser  de- 
gree from  the  interpretations  already  existing.  It  is  clear  that  in 
this  direction  lies  chaos,  just  the  kind  of  chaos  which  Schiller 
has  so  graphically  and  inimitably  described.1 

It  is  strange  that  until  now  no  way  of  escaping  this  difficulty 
has  been  seriously  considered.  It  has  not  occurred  to  students  of 
philosophy  that  one  effective  way  of  meeting  the  problem  at 
least  partially  is  to  put  these  varying  interpretations  and  critiques 
before  the  philosopher  while  he  is  still  alive  and  to  ask  him  to 
act  at  one  and  the  same  time  as  both  defendant  and  judge.  If 
the  world's  great  living  philosophers  can  be  induced  to  coSper- 

*In  his  essay  on  "Must  Philosophers  Disagree?"  in  the  volume  by  the  same 
title  (Macmillan,  London,  1934),  from  which  the  above  quotations  were  taken. 


GENERAL  INTRODUCTION  ix 

ate  in  an  enterprise  whereby  their  own  work  can,  at  least  to  some 
extent,  be  saved  from  becoming  merely  "desiccated  lecture- 
fodder,"  which  on  the  one  hand  "provides  innocuous  sustenance 
for  ruminant  professors,"  and,  on  the  other  hand,  gives  an  op- 
portunity to  such  ruminants  and  their  understudies  to  "specu- 
late safely,  endlessly,  and  fruitlessly,  about  what  a  philosopher 
must  have  meant"  (Schiller),  they  will  have  taken  a  long  step 
toward  making  their  intentions  clearly  comprehensible. 

With  this  in  mind  The  Library  of  Living  Philosophers  ex- 
pects to  publish  at  more  or  less  regular  intervals  a  volume  on 
each  of  the  greater  among  the  world's  living  philosophers.  In 
each  case  it  will  be  the  purpose  of  the  editor  of  The  Library 
to  bring  together  in  the  volume  the  interpretations  and  criti- 
cisms of  a  wide  range  of  that  particular  thinker's  scholarly  con- 
temporaries, each  of  whom  will  be  given  a  free  hand  to  discuss 
the  specific  phase  of  the  thinker's  work  which  has  been  assigned 
to  him.  All  contributed  essays  will  finally  be  submitted  to  the 
philosopher  with  whose  work  and  thought  they  are  concerned, 
for  his  careful  perusal  and  reply.  And,  although  it  would  be  ex- 
pecting too  much  to  imagine  that  the  philosopher's  reply  will  be 
able  to  stop  all  differences  of  interpretation  and  of  critique,  this 
should  at  least  serve  the  purpose  of  stopping  certain  of  the 
grosser  and  more  general  kinds  of  misinterpretations.  If  no  fur- 
ther gain  than  this  were  to  come  from  the  present  and  projected 
volumes  of  this  Library,  it  would  seem  to  be  fully  justified. 

In  carrying  out  this  principal  purpose  of  the  Library,  the 
editor  announces  that  (in  so  far  as  humanly  possible)  each  vol- 
ume will  conform  to  the  following  pattern: 

First,  a  series  of  expository  and  critical  articles  written  by  the 
leading  exponents  and  opponents  of  the  philosopher's 
thought; 

Second,  the  reply  to  the  critics  and  commentators  by  the  phi- 
losopher himself; 

Third,  an  intellectual  autobiography  of  the  thinker  whenever 
this  can  be  secured;  in  any  case  an  authoritative  and  author- 
ized biography;  and 

Fourth,  a  bibliography  of  the  writings  of  the  philosopher  to  pro- 


x          THE  LIBRARY  OF  LIVING  PHILOSOPHERS 

vide  a  ready  instrument  to  give  access  to  his  writings  and 
thought. 

The  editor  has  deemed  it  desirable  to  secure  the  services  of 
an  Advisory  Board  of  philosophers  to  aid  him  in  the  selection 
of  the  subjects  of  future  volumes.  The  names  of  the  six  promi- 
nent American  philosophers  who  have  consented  to  serve  appear 
below.  To  each  of  them  the  editor  expresses  his  deep-felt  thanks. 
The  first  fruit  of  their  consultation  is  the  selection  of  Karl  Jaspers 
as  the  subject  of  a  subsequent  study  in  this  Library. 

Future  volumes  in  this  series  will  appear  in  as  rapid  succes- 
sion as  is  feasible  in  view  of  the  scholarly  nature  of  this  Library. 
The  next  volume  in  this  series  will  be  that  on  Albert  Einstein: 
Philosopher-Scientist,  which  is  scheduled  to  come  off  the  press 
during  1949,  the  year  which  will  mark  Professor  Einstein's 
seventieth  birthday. 

PAUL  ARTHUR  SCHILPP 

Editor 

1 01 -i 02  FAYERWEATHER  HALL 
NORTHWESTERN  UNIVERSITY 
EVANSTON,  ILLINOIS 

ADVISORY  BOARD 

GEORGE  P.  ADAMS  RICHARD  P.  McKEON 

University  of  California  University  of  Chicago 

FRITZ  KAUFMANN  ARTHUR  E.  MURPHY 

University  of  Buffalo  Cornell  University 

CORNELIUS  KRUSE  HERBERT  W.  SCHNEIDER 

American  Council  of  Learned  Columbia  University 

Societies 


TABLE  OF  CONTENTS 

I.  BIOGRAPHICAL  MATERIAL 

A.  DIMITRY  GAWRONSKY:  "Ernst  Cassirer:  His  Life  and 

His  Work." i 

B.  Four  Addresses,  delivered  at  Memorial  Services,  held 
under  the  Auspices  of  the  Department  of  Philosophy  of 
Columbia  University  in  the  Brander  Matthews  Theater 
of  Columbia  University,  New  York  City,  on  June  I, 

1945 39 

1.  EDWARD   CASE:   "In   Memoriam:  Ernst  Cassirer" 

— A  poem 40 

2.  HAJO  HOLBORN:  "Ernst  Cassirer" 41 

3.  F.  SAXL:  "Ernst  Cassirer" 47 

4.  EDWARD  CASE:  "A  Student's  Nachruf"  .      .      .      .  52 

5.  CHARLES  W.  HENDEL:  "Ernst  Cassirer"  ...  55 

C.  HENDRIK  J.  Pos:  "Recollections  of  Ernst  Cassirer"     .  61 

II.  DESCRIPTIVE  AND  CRITICAL  ESSAYS  ON  THE 
PHILOSOPHY  OF  ERNST  CASSIRER 

1.  HAMBURG,  CARL  H.:  "Cassirer's  Conception  of  Phi- 

losophy"    73 

2.  SWABEY,    WILLIAM    CURTIS:    "Cassirer   and   Meta- 

physics"     121 

3.  STEPHENS,  I.  K.:  "Cassirer's  Doctrine  of  the  A  Prior?'     149 

4.  KAUFMANN,  FELIX:  "Cassirer's  Theory  of  Scientific 

Knowledge" 183 

5.  GAWRONSKY,  DIMITRY:  "Cassirer's  Contribution  to  the 

Epistemology  of  Physics" 215 

6.  SMART,  HAROLD  R.:  "Cassirer's  Theory  of  Mathe- 

matical Concepts" 239 

7.)  LEWIN,  KURT:  "Cassirer's  Philosophy  of  Science  and 

the  Social  Sciences" 269 

8.  HARTMAN,  ROBERT  S.:  "Cassirer's  Philosophy  of  Sym- 
bolic Forms"  289 

xi 


xH  TABLE  OF  CONTENTS 

9.  LEANDER,  FOLKE:  "Further  Problems  Suggested  by  the 

Philosophy  of  Symbolic  Forms" 335 

10.  MONTAGU,  M.  F.  ASHLEY:  "Cassirer  on  Mythological 

Thinking" 359 

11.  LANCER,  SUSANNE  K.:  "On  Cassirer's  Theory  of  Lan- 

guage and  Myth" 379 

12.  URBAN,  WILBUR  M.:  "Cassirer's  Philosophy  of  Lan- 

guage"      401 

13.  GUTMANN,  JAMES:  "Cassirer's  Humanism"  .      .      .     443 

14.  SIDNEY,  DAVID:  "The  Philosophical  Anthropology  of 

Ernst  Cassirer  and  Its  Significance  in  Relation  to 
the  History  of  Anthropological  Thought"     .      .      465 

15.  KUHN,   HELMUT:   "Ernst   Cassirer's  Philosophy   of 

Culture" 545 

1 6.  BAUMGARDT,  DAVID:  "Cassirer  and  the  Chaos  in  Mod- 

ern Ethics" 575 

17.  GILBERT,  KATHARINE:  "Cassirer's  Placement  of  Art"     605 

1 8.  SLOCHOWER,  HARRY:  "Ernst  Cassirer's  Functional  Ap- 

proach to  Art  and  Literature" 631 

1 9.  REICHARDT,  KONSTANTIN  :  "Ernst  Cassirer's  Contribu- 

tion to  Literary  Criticism" 66 1 

20.  RANDALL,  JOHN  HERMAN,  JR.:  "Cassirer's  Theory  of 

History  as  Illustrated  in  His  Treatment  of  Renais- 
sance Thought" 689 

21.  SOLMITZ,   WALTER  M.:  "Cassirer  on  Galileo:  An 

Example  of  Cassirer's  Way  of  Thought"  .      .      .      729 

22.  WERKMEISTER,  WILLIAM  H.:  "Cassirer's  Advance 

Beyond  Neo-Kantianism" 757 

23.  KAUFMANN,  FRITZ:  "Cassirer,  Neo-Kantianism,  and 

Phenomenology" 799 

III.  THE  PHILOSOPHER  SPEAKS  FOR  HIMSELF 
ERNST  CASSIRER:  "  'Spirit'  and  'Life'  in  Contemporary  Phi- 
losophy"     855 

IV.  BIBLIOGRAPHY  OF  THE  WRITINGS  OF  ERNST 

CASSIRER    (to    1946):   Compiled   by   CARL   H. 
HAMBURG  and  WALTER  M.  SOLMITZ)  .      .      .      .881 

Chronological  List  of  Principal  Works 910 

Index  (Arranged  by  ROBERT  S.  HARTMAN) 911 


PREFACE 

AS  SOON  as  it  had  become  clear  that  there  was  a  real  place 
JTJIJL  in  philosophic  literature  for  the  type  of  book  which  it  is 
the  aim  of  this  Library  to  present,  it  was  also  quite  evident  that 
such  a  series  would  not  be  complete  without  a  volume  on  The 
Philosophy  of  Ernst  Cassirer.  If  there  could  ever  have  been  any 
doubt,  on  this  point,  it  existed  merely  among  such  provincial 
philosophical  scholars  as  had  not  become  personally  acquainted, 
let  alone  familiar,  with  the  writings  and  work  of  this  prodigious 
and  acute  contemporary  thinker.  Anyone  at  all  aware  of  Cas- 
sirer's  philosophical  contributions,  and  of  the  ever  growing  in- 
fluence of  his  thought  upon  younger  thinkers,  knew  quite  well 
that  Cassirer's  philosophy  would  have  to  be  treated  in  this 
Library.  It  was  not  at  all  surprising,  therefore,  that  the  editor 
found  a  ready  response  among  scholars  everywhere  to  his  invita- 
tion to  contribute  to  a  projected  Cassirer  volume.  The  present 
co-operative  effort,  accordingly,  had  been  largely  planned  long 
before  Professor  Cassirer  left  the  hospitable  shores  of  Sweden 
to  come  to  the  United  States  in  1942. 

At  the  time,  therefore,  that  the  tragic  news  of  Professor 
Cassirer's  unexpected  death,  on  April  13,  1945,  reached  the 
editor,  many  of  the  essays  now  appearing  in  this  volume  were 
already  in  the  editor's  hands  and  many  others  had  been  in  the 
process  of  being  written  by  their  authors  for  some  time  past. 

Nevertheless,  this  tragic  blow — among  its  manifold  unhappy 
consequences — seemed  to  place  a  volume  on  the  philosophy  of 
Ernst  Cassirer  in  the  Library  of  Living  Philosophers  forever 
beyond  the  pale  of  possibility.  For,  with  Cassirer  dead,  how 
could  a  volume  on  his  philosophy  appear  in  such  a  series?  This, 
at  any  rate,  was  the  first  reaction  of  the  editor  to  the  unbe- 
lievable news  of  Cassirer's  passing.  And  it  was  in  this  spirit, 
therefore,  that  letters  went  out  almost  immediately,  notifying 


anil 


xiv        THE  LIBRARY  OF  LIVING  PHILOSOPHERS 

all  contributors  to  the  present  book  that,  with  the  death  of  Cas- 
sirer,  the  original  project  of  a  volume  on  his  philosophy — if 
not  actually  completely  abandoned — would  at  least  have  to  be 
changed  so  radically  as  no  longer  to  fit  into  the  framework  of 
the  Library. 

The  storm  of  protest  and  the  almost  unanimity  of  objection 
which  greeted  this  announcement  forced,  in  the  first  place,  a 
careful  reconsideration  of  the  hasty  decision,  and  very  quickly 
indeed,  a  complete  reversal.  Many  of  the  contributors  com- 
plained that  the  editor  was  conceiving  of  the  word  "living"  in 
the  title  of  the  series  far  too  literally  or  at  least  too  narrowly. 
That,  despite  the  fact  that  we  would  now  never  be  able  to  pre- 
sent to  the  philosophical  world  either  Cassirer's  own  auto- 
biography or  his  formal  "Reply"  to  his  critics,  it  was  perhaps 
all  the  more  necessary  that  the  philosophical  world  should  have 
an  opportunity  to  see  and  view  this  great  contemporary  thinker's 
ideas  from  the  varied  points  of  view  made  possible  precisely  in 
the  kind  of  book  which  the  volumes  in  this  series  have  been. 

Although  it  is  true  that  the  editor  yielded  to  this  almost  uni- 
versal pressure  and  even  more  to  the  force  and  decisiveness  of 
this  argument,  the  yielding  certainly  did  not  take  place  in  the 
least  reluctantly.  Of  course  it  is  true  that  he  greatly  regrets 
the  anomaly  of  having  a  volume  appear  in  a  series  dealing 
with  "living"  philosophers,  when  the  philosopher  with  whose 
thought  the  volume  is  concerned  is  no  longer  among  the — physi- 
cally— living.  But,  on  the  other  hand,  he  would  not  be  truthful, 
where  he  to  claim  that  he  feels  that  the  present  volume  has — 
for  these  reasons — no  legitimate  place  within  the  bounds  of 
this  particular  series.  After  all,  the  volume  on  The  Philosophy 
of  Alfred  North  Whitehead  (Vol.  Ill  of  this  Library}  also  had 
no  formal  "Reply"  to  the  expository  and  critical  articles  in  the 
book  from  the  pen  of  Whitehead — and  yet  seemed  to  fill  a 
real  philosophical  need  just  the  same.  And,  in  the  case  of  the 
Whitehead  volume,  this  problem  was — in  a  sense  at  least — even 
more  serious  than  it  would  appear  to  be  in  the  present  instance. 
For,  when  the  Whitehead  volume  appeared  in  print,  Professor 
Whitehead  himself  was  still  very  much  alive — even  though  he 
had  just  gone  through  a  terrible  siege  of  double  pneumonia  at 


PREFACE  xv 

the  age  of  eighty.  If,  in  Whitehead's  case,  we  were  prevented 
from  carrying  out  the  fundamental  idea  of  this  series  by  the 
commanding  imperative  of  very  serious  illness,  in  the  case  of 
Cassirer  we  found  ourselves  stopped — at  the  point  of  "The 
Philosopher's  Reply" — by  the  finality  of  death  itself.  But, 
though  death  might  prevent  us  from  giving  our  readers  the 
very  careful  and  minute  formal  "Reply,"  which  the  editor 
knows  Cassirer  had  planned  to  write  for  the  present  volume, 
even  that  tragic  fatality  was  not  able  to  stop  the  continued 
strong  influence  which  Cassirer's  thought  is  having  upon  serious 
reflection  in  the  contemporary  world.  Nor  should  it  be  allowed 
to  stop  the  present  volume.  For  better  or  for  worse,  therefore, 
the  volume  now  is  done — or,  more  accurately  speaking,  is  done 
as  much  as  it  could  be  done  once  Cassirer  himself  was  no  longer 
with  us.  And,  frankly,  though  the  reviewers  almost  inevitably 
will  pick  on  the  anomaly  of  the  appearance  of  this  book  under 
the  title  of  this  series,  after  reading  the  material  which  has  gone 
into  the  making  of  this  book,  the  editor  himself  does  not  at  all 
feel  apologetic  for  its  publication.  For  this  volume  will  best 
fulfill  its  real  function  in  philosophical  literature  if — like  its 
predecessors  in  this  series — it  will  send  the  reader  of  The  Phi- 
losophy of  Ernst  Cassirer  to  the  books  and  other  writings  of 
Cassirer  himself,  where  he  may  learn  by  experience  why  he 
would  have  been  the  loser,  if  he  had  never  made  the  detailed 
acquaintance  of  this  acute  philosophical  mind  and  of  the  great 
and  profound  contributions  which  that  mind  has  made  to  the 
thinking  and  knowing  of  man. 

There  is  one  temptation — in  the  writing  of  this  Preface — to 
which  the  editor  dare  not  yield.  It  is  all  too  tempting  to  discuss 
Cassirer  the  philosopher;  but  this  is  done  by  twenty-three  con- 
temporary philosophers  who  have  contributed  to  this  volume 
and  most  of  whom  are  far  better  qualified  for  this  task  than  is 
the  editor.  It  is  even  more  tempting  to  trespass  upon  the  good 
taste  of  editorial  prerogatives  by  discussing  here  Cassirer  the 
man,  the  gentleman,  the  personal  friend.  But  to  this  temptation 
also  the  editor  must  turn  a  deaf  ear,  since  others,  who  have 
known  him  much  longer  and  far  more  intimately,  have  dis- 
cussed this  aspect  within  the  covers  of  this  book.  I  shall  merely 


xvi        THE  LIBRARY  OF  LIVING  PHILOSOPHERS 

say  that  I  consider  the  personal  acquaintance  and  contacts  with 
Ernst  Cassirer  to  be  among  the  greatest  experiences  and  privi- 
leges of  my  life.  In  the  judgment  of  this  writer,  it  is  not  too 
much  to  say  of  Cassirer:  Ecce  Homo!  It  is  profoundly  sad  to 
contemplate  his  leaving  us  in  the  midst  of  his  great  creative  and 
productive  career,  with  dozens  of  tasks  which  he  had  set  him- 
self unfinished  and  others  barely  begun. 

The  editor's  debt  of  gratitude  to  each  of  the  contributors  to 
this  volume  is  so  self-evident  that  a  mere  mention  of  this  fact 
should  suffice.  But,  in  view  of  the  fact  that  many  of  them  have 
had  to  wait  four  years,  or  even  longer,  to  see  the  arduous  work 
of  their  mind  finally  in  print,  the  editor's  debt,  in  this  instance, 
is  even  greater  than  usual.  The  reasons  which  have  delayed  the 
appearance  of  this  volume  time  and  again  are,  however,  far 
too  numerous  to  bear  repetition  here.  Suffice  it  to  record  the 
editor's  sincere  regrets  and  abject  apologies  for  a  situation  which 
has  caused  him  much  agony  and  ever  increasing  embarrassment, 
but  over  much  of  which  he  had  little  (if  any)  control. 

Special  words  of  gratitude  and  appreciation  need,  however, 
to  be  penned  for  the  never  failing  helpfulness  and  encourage- 
ment— through  all  these  three  and  one-half  years  since  her  illus- 
trious husband's  death — given  by  the  widow  of  Ernst  Cassirer, 
Mrs.  Toni  Cassirer.  When  at  times  the  obstacles  seemed  almost 
insurmountable,  it  was  Mrs.  Cassirer's  everlasting  faith  which 
kept  the  project  going.  Here  truly  is  a  woman  who  knew — 
and  still  knows — her  husband's  greatness  and  who  never  failed 
to  understand  the  significance  of  what  he  was  trying  to  do  with 
his  life  and  thought. 

Death  did  not  spare  the  contributors  to  this  volume  either. 
Two  of  these  are  no  longer  with  us.  First,  Kurt  Lewin,  whose 
essay  for  the  present  volume  had  been  mailed  to  the  editor 
on  January  3rd,  1947,  passed  away  very  suddenly  only  five 
weeks  later,  namely  on  February  nth,  1947.  Thirteen  months 
later,  in  March  1948,  the  news  of  F.  Saxl's  death  reached  us. 
The  latter's  contribution  to  this  volume  were  remarks  he  de- 
livered on  the  occasion  of  the  Memorial  Services  held  for  Cas- 
sirer at  Columbia  University.  Little  did  he  realize  that,  by  the 
time  his  remarks  would  appear  in  print,  he  himself  would  have 


PREFACE  xvii 

joined  those  for  whom  it  is  altogether  fitting  to  hold  memorial 
services.  Of  Kurt  Lewin,  Alexander  M.  Dashkin,  writing  in 
Jewish  Education  (for  Feb.-March  issue,  1947),  had  the  fol- 
lowing to  say:  "Kurt  Lewin  was  one  of  the  very  few  men  in  our 
midst  who  had  the  right  to  be  called  a  genius.  He  was  an  inven- 
tive, comprehensive  mind,  a  warm  large  personality,  with  an 
indefatigable  capacity  for  resourceful  work."  The  editor  is  proud 
to  be  able  to  present,  in  this  volume,  what  was  undoubtedly  one 
of  the  last  pieces  of  such  creative  work  from  the  pen  of  Kurt 
Lewin. 

These  lines  are  being  written  on  the  very  eve  of  the  editor's 
departure  for  five  months'  sojourn  in  Europe,  including  a  se- 
mester's lecturing  in  one  of  Germany's  newly  re-opened  univer- 
sities. This  means  that  the  burden  of  proofreading  and  seeing 
this  volume  through  the  press  will  largely  have  to  fall  upon 
other  shoulders.  In  the  editor's  absence  he  counts  himself  ex- 
ceedingly fortunate  in  having  been  able  to  secure  the  able  as- 
sistance of  his  present  colleague,  old  friend  and  former  student, 
Professor  Robert  W.  Browning,  of  the  department  of  philoso- 
phy at  Northwestern  University.  Upon  Dr.  Browning  and  such 
additional  aids  as  he  is  able  to  marshal, — such,  for  example,  as 
that  of  Dr.  David  Bidney  of  the  Viking  Fund,  New  York  City, 
who  has  already  kindly  offered  his  good  services  because  of  his 
deep  interest  in  this  project  and  his  knowledge  of  the  editor's 
temporary  absence — ,  the  detailed  technical  work  of  seeing  this 
volume  to  final  fruition  will  largely  devolve.  To  them  the  edi- 
tor, as  well  as  the  contributors  and  readers,  owe  a  deep  and  great 
debt  of  gratitude,  especially  in  view  of  the  fact  that  all  such 
service  on  a  project  like  this — unsupported  as  it  is  by  endow- 
ments or  by  any  university  press — can  only  be  a  labor  of  love. 
The  same  goes  for  Professor  Robert  S.  Hartman,  of  the  De- 
partment of  Philosophy  of  Ohio  State  University,  another  one 
of  the  editor's  former  students,  who  again  was  kind  enough  to 
undertake  the  laborious  task  of  preparing  the  index  and  of  see- 
ing it  through  the  press.  A  brief  look  at  the  index  will  convince 
even  the  casual  observer  of  the  immensity  of  this  task  and  of 
the  consequent  obligation  under  which  the  editor  feels  himself 
to  Dr.  Hartman. 


xviii       THE  LIBRARY  OF  LIVING  PHILOSOPHERS 

In  conclusion  the  reader's  attention  must  be  called  to  the 
deplorable  fact  that  the  main  works  by  Cassirer  have  been  out 
of  print  for  some  time  and  are  simply  not  to  be  had  anywhere. 
This  situation  should  certainly  be  remedied  as  soon  as  at  all 
possible.  New  German  editions  of  Cassirer's  works  are  sorely 
needed.  But,  if  Cassirer  is  ever  truly  to  come  into  his  own  in 
the  English  speaking  world,  it  is  high  time  that  some  enterpris- 
ing university  press  in  this  country  should  soon  supply  the  phil- 
osophical reading  public  with  authorized  translations  into  Eng- 
lish of  at  least  most  of  Cassirer 's  major  works.  Certainly  some 
well-to-do  reader  of  the  present  volume  could  do  far  worse 
than  offer  his  financial  aid  to  such  an  enterprising  university 
press  for  the  purpose  of  at  least  partial  subsidies  for  such  pub- 
lication. 

P.  A.  S. 

DEPARTMENT  OF  PHILOSOPHY 
NORTHWESTERN  UNIVERSITY 
EVANSTON,  ILLINOIS 

August  3,  1948 


ACKNOWLEDGMENTS 

Grateful  acknowledgement  is  made  to  the  Yale  University  Press,  to 
the  Open  Court  Publishing  Company,  to  Harper  and  Brothers,  and 
to  the  Princeton  University  Press,  for  their  kind  permission  to  quote 
at  length  from  the  works  of  Ernst  Cassirer,  without  requiring  a  de- 
tailed enumeration.  Exact  title,  name  of  publisher,  and  place  and  date 
of  publication  of  each  of  Cassirer's  works  are  enumerated  in  the  Bibli- 
ography to  this  volume,  found  on  pages  885  to  909. 

We  also  wish  to  express  our  appreciation  to  the  editors  and  publishers 
of  the  numerous  philosophical  and  literary  journals  quoted,  and  to  the 
publishers  of  all  other  books  used  by  our  contributors,  for  the  privilege 
of  utilizing  source  materials  therein  found  relevant  to  the  discussion  of 
The  Philosophy  of  Ernst  Cassirer. 


A 

Dimitry  Gawronsky 
ERNST  CASSIRER:  HIS  LIFE  AND  HIS  WORK 

A  Biography 


ERNST  CASSIRER:  HIS  LIFE  AND  HIS  WORK 

ERNST  CASSIRER  was  born  in  Breslau  on  July  28,  1874. 
He  was  the  fourth  child  of  a  rich  Jewish  tradesman  j  a 
brother  and  two  sisters  preceded  Ernst.  His  brother  died  in 
infancy,  before  Ernst  was  born,  and  his  mother  therefore  be- 
stowed upon  the  second  boy,  the  impassioned  love  she  had  felt 
for  her  lost  son  and  in  memory  of  this  tragic  loss  and  the  ordeal 
she  underwent  she  called  her  second  son  Ernst.  To  the  last  days 
of  her  life,  Ernst  was  her  most  cherished  child,  although  two 
other  sons  and  three  daughters  came  after  him. 

As  a  boy,  Ernst  was  exceptionally  cheerful  and  buoyant,  yet 
easy  to  handle.  In  his  games  he  displayed  an  inexhaustible 
imagination  j  he  was  full  of  new  tricks  and  pranks,  and  nothing 
in  his  nature  seemed  to  reveal  that  his  life  would  be  devoted  to 
quiet  and  concentrated  contemplation.  He  was  endowed  with  a 
great  courage  and,  as  a  boy  of  ten,  it  was  nothing  to  him  to  swim 
the  broad  Oder  River  across  and  back.  The  most  outstanding 
feature  of  the  boy  was  his  keen  sense  of  fair  play  and  justice. 
Althought  the  most  beloved  child  of  the  family,  he  never  toler- 
ated the  slightest  discrimination  against  his  brothers  and  sisters, 
never  accepted  any  favors,  refused  anything  which  was  not  also 
given  to  the  others. 

Ernst  was  an  impassioned  music  lover  and  never  missed  an 
opportunity  to  attend  a  concert  or  an  opera.  In  his  early  classes 
at  the  "Gymnasium"  he  was  just  an  average  pupil,  much  more 
likely  to  be  at  the  bottom  than  at  the  head  of  his  class.  He  kept 
so  busy  playing  with  his  brothers  and  friends  that  there  was 
little  time  left  for  study. 

But  a  change  was  not  far  off.  Ernst's  maternal  grandfather, 
although  a  self-taught  person,  was  an  exceptionally  cultured 
man  of  wide  intellectual  scope  and  truly  philosophical  mind. 
He  lived  not  far  from  Breslau,  and  every  summer  Ernst  paid  a 


4  DIMITRY  GAWRONSKY 

visit  to  his  grandfather.  There,  in  conversations  with  his  grand- 
father, whom  he  dearly  loved,  and  in  the  latter's  vast  library, 
awoke  and  grew  Ernst's  interest  in  the  problems  of  the  intel- 
lectual life.  All  his  life  Cassirer  was  convinced  that  he  inherited 
his  philosophical  vein  of  thought  from  his  grandfather.  At  the 
age  of  twelve  he  had  already  thoroughly  read  many  literary 
and  historical  works.  Shakespeare,  whose  work  he  found  in  his 
father's  library,  especially  appealed  to  him  and  Ernst  read  and 
reread  all  of  Shakespeare's  plays  several  times;  only  Hamlet 
was  missing  from  his  father's  library,  and  Ernst  was  quite  un- 
aware of  the  existence  of  this  play.  Then,  on  his  thirteenth  birth- 
day, he  received  a  book  containing  Shakespeare's  complete 
works  and  he  was  most  amazed  and  thrilled  to  "discover"  Ham- 
let. 

At  this  early  age — and  for  the  remainder  of  his  life — 
Cassirer  acquired  the  capacity  for  concentrated  and  persistent 
work.  His  entire  behavior  began  to  change  slowly.  Now  there 
was  only  little  time  left  for  play,  and  in  his  class  he  became 
admittedly  the  best  pupil.  In  higher  classes  Cassirer's  teachers 
were  often  amazed  at  the  depth  of  his  knowledge  and  maturity 
of  his  judgment,  and  when  he  completed  his  studies  at  the 
"Gymnasium"  his  graduation  certificate  contained  the  highest 
marks. 

Without  losing  any  time,  Cassirer  entered  the  University  of 
Berlin.  He  was  then  eighteen  years  of  age  and  the  major  sub- 
ject he  had  selected  for  a  study  was  jurisprudence.  He  made 
this  choice  more  upon  the  insistence  of  his  father,  who  was 
largely  interested  in  the  field  of  law,  than  of  his  own  free  will. 
Soon  he  gave  up  this  line  of  study  and  began  to  concentrate 
upon  German  philosophy  and  literature.  In  addition  he  listened 
eagerly  to  lectures  on  history  and  art.  And  yet  all  these  studies 
somehow  did  not  give  Cassirer  complete  satisfaction;  something 
was  lacking  in  them;  he  missed  in  them  a  certain  degree  of 
depth  in  understanding  and  failed  to  find  any  solution  of  funda- 
mental problems.  It  was  undoubtedly  this  sense  of  dissatisfac- 
tion which  caused  Cassirer  to  change  universities  several  times; 
he  went  from  Berlin  to  Leipzig,  from  there  to  Heidelberg,  and 
then  back  to  Berlin.  In  the  meantime  he  further  enlarged  the 


CASSIRER:  HIS  LIFE  AND  HIS  WORK  5 

scope  of  his  studies  and  found  himself  becoming  more  and  more 
interested  in  philosophy.  Thus  it  happened  that  in  the  summer 
of  1894  he  decided  to  take  a  course  on  Kant's  philosophy  given 
by  Georg  Simmel,  then  a  young  and  brilliant  Privatdozent  at 
the  University  of  Berlin. 

This  was  a  time  when  strong  idealistic  tendencies  seemed  to 
win  a  decisive  victory  over  mysticism,  which  for  many  centuries 
had  dominated  German  spiritual  culture.  Already  in  the  first 
half  of  the  thirteenth  century  Meister  Eckhart,  one  of  the 
greatest  of  the  German  mystics,  had  impressively  revealed  the 
very  core  of  his  creed  in  the  following  words:  "Man,  yes,  I 
stood  with  God  before  time  and  the  world  were  created;  yes, 
I  was  included  in  the  eternal  Godhead  even  before  it  became 
God.  Together  with  me  God  has  created  and  is  still  and  always 
creating.  Only  through  me  He  became  God."  This  conception, 
born  out  of  titanic  pride,  infinite  egotistic  power,  and  ecstasy  of 
passion,  for  five  long  centuries  and  virtually  unopposed  had 
dominated  German  spiritual  culture;  it  never  remained  a  move- 
ment of  intellectuals  only,  or  of  any  other  small  group  of  peo- 
ple; in  fact,  all  the  great  folk  movements  in  Germany  during 
those  five  centuries  were  movements  of  outspoken  mysticism. 

In  the  eighteenth  century,  however,  tendencies  of  a  very 
different  nature  came  to  the  fore  within  German  culture.  Leib- 
niz and  Wolf,  Lessing  and  Goethe,  Schiller  and  Kant  created 
in  Germany  a  bright  atmosphere  of  genuine  humanism;  ideal- 
istic tendencies,  intermingled  with  radical  rationalism,  became 
most  potent  in  Germany's  intellectual  life.  Yet,  this  triumph  of 
reason  and  of  humanism  was  only  shortlived;  with  the  begin- 
ning of  the  nineteenth  century  a  huge  wave  of  mysticism  again 
arose  in  Germany,  breaking  through  all  ramparts  of  measure 
and  reason  and  overflowing  the  spiritual  culture  of  Germany. 
Then  again,  in  the  last  third  of  the  nineteenth  century  Otto 
Liebmann  and  Hermann  Cohen  initiated  a  philosophical  move- 
ment which  harked  back  to  Kant  and  to  the  idealistic  tendencies 
of  the  eighteenth  century.  Several  philosophical  "schools"  soon 
arose  in  Germany,  all  quite  similar  in  this  basic  tendency  and 
diverging  from  each  other  in  only  more  or  less  important 
details.  When  Ernst  Cassirer  began  his  academic  studies,  this 


6  DIMITRY  GAWRONSKY 

neo-Kantianism  dominated  many  of  the  German  universities 
to  an  almost  exclusive  degree.  Hans  Vaihinger  for  a  score  of 
years  kept  in  his  desk  the  completed  volume  of  his  Philosophy 
of  As  ljy  a  fictional  and  pragmatistic  conception  of  knowledge, 
and  wrote  his  commentary  on  Kant  in  which  he  embarked  upon 
an  orthodox  interpretation  of  Kant's  texts,  word  by  word  and 
sentence  by  sentence.  And  Simmel,  the  future  leading  "philoso- 
pher of  life,"  wrote  and  lectured  on  Kant's  philosophy. 

For  some  weeks  Cassirer  regularly  attended  Simmel's  lec- 
tures. Once,  when  lecturing  on  Kant,  Simmel  dropped  the  fol- 
lowing remark:  "Undoubtedly  the  best  books  on  Kant  are 
written  by  Hermann  Cohen;  but  I  must  confess  that  I  do  not 
understand  them." 

Immediately  after  the  lecture,  Cassirer  went  to  his  bookshop 
and  ordered  Cohen's  books;  and  no  sooner  had  he  begun  study- 
ing them  than  his  decision  was  made — to  go  to  Marburg  and 
there  to  study  philosophy  under  Cohen's  guidance.  However, 
Cassirer  did  not  want  to  go  to  Cohen  at  once.  The  young  stu- 
dent studied  Kant's  and  Cohen's  works  thoroughly,  as  well  as 
those  of  several  other  philosophers  essential  for  the  understand- 
ing of  Kant,  such  as  Plato,  Descartes,  and  Leibniz.  In  addition 
he  devoted  a  large  part  of  his  time  to  the  study  of  mathematics, 
mechanics,  and  biology — sciences  which  were  indispensable  for 
an  understanding  of  Cohen's  interpretation  of  Kant. 

When,  in  the  spring  of  1896,  Cassirer  finally  arrived  in 
Marburg  to  hear  Cohen  for  the  first  time,  he  knew  a  great  deal 
about  Kant's  and  Cohen's  philosophies.  There  was  something 
very  peculiar  about  Cohen's  appearance:  he  was  stout  and  short, 
with  an  incredibly  huge  head  towering  over  his  broad  shoulders. 
He  had  an  almost  abnormally  high  forehead.  His  eyes  flashed, 
fascinated,  and  penetrated,  despite  the  dark  glasses  which  he 
always  wore.  In  his  lectures  and  seminars,  and  even  in  his  pri- 
vate conversations,  one  could  not  help  experiencing  the  presence 
of  a  great  mind  and  the  heart  of  a  prophet,  filled  to  overflowing 
with  an  ecstatic  belief  in  the  value  of  truth  and  the  power  of 
goodness.  No  matter  what  problem  Cohen  discussed — a  mathe- 
matical, epistemological  or  ethical  one — he  always  spoke  with 
a  deep,  intense  passion,  which  was  usually  controlled  perfectly 


CASSIRER:  HIS  LIFE  AND  HIS  WORK  7 

by  the  measured  flow  of  his  slow  and  powerful  language — until 
the  passion  broke  through  in  a  few  words  or  short  sentences. 
Then  Cohen  would  shout  with  mighty  voice  at  his  listeners, 
emphasizing  the  importance  of  his  words  with  an  energetic 
movement  of  his  hands. 

However  interesting  Cohen's  lectures  were,  his  seminars 
were  even  more  stimulating.  He  was  truly  a  spiritual  "mid- 
wife" in  the  Socratic  sense.  Always  using  the  method  of  the 
Socratic  dialogue,  he  had  a  great  pedagogical  ability  to  let  the 
students  themselves  find  the  answers  to  questions  discussed.  His 
patience  and  his  personal  interest  in  the  intellectual  develop- 
ment of  every  single  one  of  the  students  was  inexhaustible.  At 
the  same  time  he  was  keenly  concerned  with  their  general  wel- 
fare, and  whenever  his  help  was  needed,  he  always  gave  it  to 
his  utmost. 

In  the  first  seminar  hour  which  Cassirer  attended  he  volun- 
teered to  answer  a  rather  difficult  philosophical  question  asked 
by  Cohen.  A  conversation  arose  between  them,  and  within  a  few 
minutes  Cohen  was  quite  aware  of  the  type  of  student  that  sat 
before  him.  Later  on  this  first  meeting  with  Cassirer  belonged 
to  Cohen's  most  pleasant  reminiscences,  and  he  enjoyed  telling 
it  frequently  and  in  great  detail}  how  a  new  student,  whom  he 
had  never  seen  before,  very  youthful  in  appearance,  a  little  shy 
but  determined,  raised  his  hand  and  in  a  firm  voice  gave  a  quite 
correct  and  complete  answer  to  his  question.  "I  felt  at  once," 
said  Cohen,  "that  this  man  had  nothing  to  learn  from  me."  At 
that  time  Cohen  was  surrounded  by  quite  a  few  disciples,  and 
some  of  them  already  had  studied  philosophy  with  him  for 
years;  but  from  the  first  moment  Cassirer  towered  above  them 
all.  He  was  quite  at  home  in  all  the  most  intricate  problems  of 
Kantian  and  Cohenian  ways  of  thinking. 

It  was  a  firmly  established  custom  in  Marburg  that  after 
every  seminar  Cohen's  disciples,  often  five  or  six  at  a  time, 
accompanied  him  to  the  threshold  of  his  house.  But  Cassirer, 
who  in  every  seminar  distinguished  himself  by  the  scope  of  his 
knowledge  and  by  the  brilliancy  of  his  philosophical  mind,  at 
first  did  not  approach  Cohen  or  his  students.  For  years  already 
Cassirer  had  been  entirely'absorbed  in  his  studies  and  had  little 


8  DIMITRY  GAWRONSKY 

time  to  spare  for  social  intercourse;  he  did  not  enjoy  any  type 
of  discussion  with  his  friends,  probably  because  his  own  inten- 
sive thinking  furthered  his  intellectual  progress  even  more.  He 
became  almost  unsociable.  In  this  mood  he  came  to  Marburg; 
he  was  always  most  polite  and  friendly  to  everybody,  but  kept 
so  obviously  aloof  that  Cohen's  disciples  nicknamed  him  "the 
Olympian."  Most  amazed  of  all  was  Cohen  himself;  he  took  a 
great  liking  to  Cassirer  and  keenly  felt  the  latter's  outstanding 
philosophical  talent;  but  he  wondered  at  his  strange  behavior. 
Finally  Cohen  developed  a  peculiar  suspicion.  There  was  one 
group  of  people  whom  Cohen  could  not  tolerate:  the  converted 
Jews;  he  never  even  shook  hands  with  them.  Cohen  evidently 
thought  that  Cassirer  was  also  converted  and  was  avoiding  any 
personal  contact  with  his  teacher  because  he  was  aware  of 
Cohen's  attitude  towards  such  people.  When  Cassirer  finally 
heard  of  this  surmise,  he  at  once  called  on  Cohen,  and  this  was 
the  beginning  of  an  intimate  friendship  between  them  which 
lasted  to  the  end  of  Cohen's  days. 

Now  Cassirer  became  the  acknowledged  leader  in  the  circle 
of  Cohen's  disciples.  He  lived  in  a  house  which  for  decades 
was  a  sort  of  headquarters  for  Cohen's  students,  and  with 
several  of  these  students  Cassirer  came  into  close  personal  con- 
tact. It  was,  however,  still  quite  impossible  to  entice  Cassirer  to 
go  to  a  party  or  to  spend  an  evening  in  a  cafe,  which  was  the 
almost  obligatory  pastime  of  the  German  students;  but  he  took 
a  fancy  to  studying  with  some  of  his  new  friends.  Thus  he  read 
Dante  and  Galileo  with  an  Italian  disciple  of  Cohen;  he  studied 
intricate  Greek  texts  with  a  classical  philologist,  and  for  hours 
he  discussed  difficult  mathematical  problems  with  a  mathema- 
tician. And  the  most  interesting  part  of  it  was  that  all  these 
people,  although  they  were  experts  in  their  respective  fields, 
willingly  acknowledged  Cassirer's  superiority  and  received 
from  him  a  great  deal  more  than  they  were  able  to  give  him  in 
return.  Soon  all  students  of  Cohen  knew  that,  whenever  they 
needed  a  helping  hand,  they  could  turn  to  Cassirer,  and  this 
very  busy  man  who  treasured  every  minute  of  his  time  was 
always  ready  to  spend  hours  explaining  difficult  problems  to 
anybody  who  approached  him. 


CASSIRER:  HIS  LIFE  AND  HIS  WORK  9 

By  the  end  of  Cassirer's  first  semester  in  Marburg  not  only 
all  the  University,  but  all  the  town  as  well,  knew  of  the  prodigy. 
Cassirer  became  quite  popular,  but  he  did  not  enjoy  popularity 
at  all}  he  sincerely  hated  any  kind  of  notoriety  in  connection 
with  his  person. 

Undoubtedly  the  credit  for  Cassirer's  stupendous  knowledge 
must  be  attributed  to  a  large  degree  to  his  exceptional  memory. 
Cohen  told  us  several  times  that  as  a  young  student  Cassirer  was 
able  to  quote  by  heart  whole  pages  of  almost  all  the  classical 
poets  and  philosophers.  And,  in  a  sorrowful  voice,  Cohen  never 
forgot  to  add:  "Even  all  modern  poets,  like  Nietzsche  and 
Stefan  George,  he  could  quote  you  by  heart  for  hours!"  This 
prodigious  memory  served  Cassirer  faithfully  to  the  end  of  his 
days  and  made  him  capable  of  finding  with  the  greatest  of  ease 
any  quotations  he  needed  in  all  those  countless  books  he  had 
read  during  his  life  time.  Yet  Cassirer's  memory  was  not  just  a 
passive  capacity,  a  sort  of  storage  for  acquired  knowledge — it 
was  rather  an  er-mnern  in  Goethe's  sense,  a  process  of  repeated 
and  creative  mental  absorption,  combined  with  a  keen  ability 
to  see  all  essential  elements  of  a  problem  and  its  organic  relation 
to  other  problems.  Cassirer's  sharp  and  most  active  intellect 
constantly  used  the  rich  material  of  his  memory,  incessantly 
reviewing  and  reshaping  it  under  different  aspects,  thus  keeping 
it  vividly  present  in  his  mind. 

When  Cassirer  came  to  Cohen,  the  latter's  philosophy  was  in 
a  state  of  transition.  Cohen  worked  at  that  time  on  his  own 
system  of  philosophy,  which  he  began  publishing  a  few  years 
later.  Cohen's  chief  goal  at  that  time  was  to  free  Kant's  philoso- 
phy from  inner  contradiction  and  to  emphasize  more  strongly 
its  fundamental  methods  and  ideas.  In  his  "critique  of  reason" 
Kant  tried  to  measure  the  real  power  of  the  human  intellect 
and  the  part  it  played  in  the  cognition  of  the  external  world. 
The  result  Kant  reached  was  the  following:  the  human  intellect 
not  only  classifies  and  combines  our  sensations  and  perceptions, 
but  does  much  more  besides  j  it  forms  them  from  the  outset  and 
makes  them  possible,  so  that  even  the  simplest  sensation  exists 
in  the  human  mind  owing  to  the  analytical  and  synthetical 
power  of  the  human  intellect  which  carries  in  itself  visible  marks 


io  DIMITRY  GAWRONSKY 

of  this  power.  We  are  very  much  mistaken  when  we  think  that, 
for  instance,  a  "white  ceiling' '  or  a  "brown  floor"  are  just  simple 
sensations}  quite  the  contrary  is  true:  "white,"  "ceiling," 
"brown,"  "floor"  presuppose  already  whole  systems  of  concepts, 
continuous  application  of  analytical  and  synthetical  functions  of 
our  intellect.  Any  sensory  intuition,  Kant  taught  in  the  central 
chapter  of  his  Critique  of  Pure  Reason,  in  the  "Transcendental 
Deduction  of  the  Pure  Concept  of  Reason,"  is  only  possible  as  a 
product  of  the  creative  activity  of  the  fundamental  functions  of 
our  intellect;  yet  in  the  chapters  preceding  and  following  this 
one  Kant  insisted  upon  the  necessity  of  accepting  the  sensory 
intuition  as  the  very  source  of  the  creative  synthetic  power  of 
our  intellect.  Furthermore,  having  showed  the  indispensability 
of  reason  for  the  true  understanding  of  nature,  for  the  creation 
of  natural  science  as  a  thoroughly  consistent  system  of  knowl- 
edge, Kant  still  did  not  part  with  his  conception  of  the  "thing- 
in-itself,"  according  to  which  all  our  knowledge  has  nothing 
to  do  with  the  world  of  ultimate  reality,  but  can  only  deal  with 
the  sphere  of  humanly  (i-e.y  sensorily)  conditioned  appearances. 

Thus  Kant  decisively  broke  with  the  naive  and  shallow  belief 
of  the  German  Enlightenment  in  the  miraculous  power  of  the 
intellect,  with  its  tendency  to  solve  with  the  help  of  trite  and 
schematic  reasonings  all  mysteries  of  the  cosmos;  he  put  the 
greatest  stress  upon  the  necessity  of  clear  insight  into  the  basic 
limitations  which  characterize  the  creative  work  of  human 
reason.  Yet  all  these  limitations  Kant  accepted  only  for  the 
realm  of  theoretical  knowledge,  not  for  the  field  of  ethical 
activity;  in  this  latter  sphere  Kant  was  convinced  that  the 
knowledge  of  good  as  well  as  its  materialization  depend  ex- 
clusively on  the  human  intellect,  that  all  emotions  and  feelings 
— such  as  friendship,  sympathy,  love — insofar  as  they  are  in- 
strumental in  the  realization  of  good,  only  obscure  and  debase 
the  purity  of  moral  principles. 

Cohen  tried  to  rectify  these  inconsistencies.  To  him  "sensa- 
tion" was  only  a  problem  which  could  be  consciously  put  and 
solved  by  the  methods  of  the  human  intellect:  this  bright 
yellow  stain  in  the  skies  is  in  reality  the  centre  of  a  whole 
planetary  system  which  reveals  in  its  substance  and  movements 


CASSIRER:  HIS  LIFE  AND  HIS  WORK  11 

a  miraculous  chain  of  natural  laws.  This  knowledge  is  genuine 
and  is  directed  towards  the  true  object,  behind  which  no  "thing- 
in-itself"  is  hidden.  Yet,  our  knowledge  is  deficient  and  is  able 
to  progress  slowly  and  painfully  5  only  as  a  result  of  the  infinite 
progress  of  science  can  a  true  knowledge  of  the  object  be  won. 
And  only  the  completely  exploded  object,  reached  at  the 
infinitely  remote  limit  of  our  knowledge,  is  the  real  "thing-in- 
itself." 

Thus,  Cohen's  philosophy  decisively  preached  the  predomi- 
nant role  of  the  intellect  in  the  realm  of  knowledge  and  did 
away  with  some  of  the  basic  limitations  of  intellectual  power 
which  were  accepted  by  Kant.  Yet,  it  was  quite  different  in  the 
realm  of  volition;  there  Cohen  was  much  less  rationalistic  than 
Kant  and  was  convinced  that  it  was  the  intensity  of  our  emotions 
and  feelings  on  which  depended  the  energy  of  our  volition; 
they  supplied  the  "motor  power"  for  our  actions. 

Hence  came  Cohen's  preference  for  mathematics  and  natural 
science;  there  the  work  of  our  intellect  could  be  observed  and 
studied  in  its  unadulterated  form.  And,  since  the  intellect  was  to 
Cohen  the  backbone  of  the  human  mind,  he  strongly  insisted 
upon  the  necessity  of  starting  philosophical  studies  with  epis- 
temology.  Cassirer  knew  this  already  from  Cohen's  books  and 
eagerly  studied  mathematics  and  natural  science  before  he  went 
to  Marburg.  Now  he  devoted  almost  all  of  his  time  to  these 
disciplines  and  to  the  problems  of  knowledge. 

During  the  first  semester  Cohen   already  began  asking 
Cassirer  which  subject  he  would  like  to  choose  for  his  doctor's 
thesis.  After  some  hesitation  Cassirer  decided  to  write  on  Leib- 
niz. Many  reasons  determined  this  choice.  First  of  all  there  was 
the  great  versatility  of  Leibniz's  prolific  genius  and  his  funda- 
mental achievement  in  the  fields  of  logic,  mathematics,  and 
natural  science,  in  which  at  that  time  Cassirer  was  primarily 
interested.  Next,  the  exceptional  difficulty  of  the  task  also  chal- 
lenged Cassirer  j  Leibniz  had  set  forth  his  philosophy  not  in 
book  form  mainly,  but  piecemeal,  in  his  vast  correspondence; 
and  the  system  of  his  philosophy  consequently  had  to  be  recon- 
structed out  of  these  dispersed  elements.  In  addition,  the  slowly 
developing  recognition  of  Leibniz's  great  importance  for  the 


12  DIMITRY  GAWRONSKY 

development  of  modern  philosophy  caused  the  Berlin  Academy 
to  make  Leibniz  the  subject  for  a  prize  competition,  and 
Cassirer  decided  to  participate  in  this  competition. 

In  less  than  two  years  Cassirer  had  completed  his  sizable 
work  on  Leibniz.  The  first  part  of  it,  dealing  with  Descartes' 
theory  of  knowledge,  was  accepted  by  the  Marburg  philosophi- 
cal faculty  as  a  doctor's  dissertation  and  obtained  the  highest 
possible  mark  in  form  of  the  very  seldom  conferred  "opus 
eximum."  Cassirer  was  at  once  admitted  to  the  oral  examination, 
during  which  he  once  more  kept  his  teachers  breathless  by  the 
immensity  of  his  knowledge  and  brilliancy  of  his  understand- 
ing, and  was  awarded  the  doctor's  degree  "summa  cum  laude." 
The  entire  book  on  Leibniz  Cassirer  presented  to  the  Berlin 
Academy.  There  he  was  not  quite  so  fortunate:  the  Academy 
decided  not  to  give  the  first  prize  to  anyone  j  Cassirer's  book 
obtained  the  second  prize,  followed  by  a  long  and  most  flatter- 
ing commendation,  where  his  great  erudition,  philosophical 
talent  and  brilliancy  of  presentation  were  highly  praised,  but 
the  prevalence  of  rational  and  systematic  tendencies,  along  with 
the  primary  concentration  upon  the  epistemological  problems 
were  given  as  reasons  for  the  withholding  of  the  first  prize  from 
him.  Some  130  years  before  the  Berlin  Academy  had  made  a 
similar  grave  mistake,  which  world  opinion  had  to  correct  in 
subsequent  years,  by  withholding  the  first  prize  from  Immanuel 
Kant.  Did  not  that  famous  Academy  commit  a  similar  error  in 
Cassirer's  case? 

Upon  receiving  his  Doctorate  from  Marburg  University, 
Cassirer  went  back  to  the  home  of  his  parents,  who  meanwhile 
had  moved  to  Berlin.  There  he  at  once  began  working  on  a  new 
problem,  which  grew  out  of  his  research  on  Leibniz — he  de- 
cided to  give  a  comprehensive  picture  of  the  development  of 
epistemology  in  the  philosophy  and  science  of  modern  times. 
He  continued  to  live  in  seclusion,  devoting  all  his  time  to  his 
studies.  Yet,  his  aloofness  never  was  a  matter  of  unsociability: 
it  was  his  vivid  awareness  of  the  greatness  of  the  task  he  had 
embarked  upon,  combined  with  the  all-devouring  interest  in  his 
work,  which  forced  him  to  spare  to  the  limit  his  time  and 
energy. 


CASSIRER:  HIS  LIFE  AND  HIS  WORK  13 

It  was  on  the  occasion  of  a  close  relative's  wedding  in  Berlin, 
in  1901,  that  Cassirer  met  his  first  cousin  from  Vienna.  He  had 
previously  seen  her  only  once,  eight  years  earlier,  when  she  was 
a  child  of  nine.  All  artistic  traits  of  Cassirer's  nature,  his  love 
and  deep  understanding  of  music,  his  fine  feeling  for  genuine 
beauty  had  in  no  way  suffered  from  his  assiduous  scientific  re- 
searches and  philosophical  meditations;  they  always  added  a 
great  deal  to  the  irresistible  charm  of  his  personality  and  were 
immediately  and  deeply  felt  by  the  young  girl.  This  first  meet- 
ing determined  their  whole  future.  They  fell  in  love  with  each 
other  and  married  a  year  later  in  Vienna. 

This  was  indeed  an  exceptionally  happy  and  harmonious 
union.  Their  mutual  understanding  was  perfect,  and  Cassirer's 
wife  always  succeeded,  thanks  to  her  remarkable  understanding 
and  insight,  in  creating  for  her  husband,  even  during  the  most 
stormy  periods  of  their  life,  appropriate  conditions  for  his  con- 
tinuous work. 

Immediately  after  the  wedding  the  young  couple  went  to 
Munich,  where  they  lived  for  more  than  a  year.  It  was  during 
this  year  that  their  first  son,  Heinz,  was  born  (he  is  now  mem- 
ber of  the  philosophical  faculty  at  the  University  of  Glasgow, 
Scotland).  In  1903  Cassirer  returned  with  his  family  to  Berlin, 
where  he  began  writing  his  history  of  epistemology.  Cohen 
constantly  pressed  upon  him  and  urged  him  to  embark  upon 
an  academic  career,  yet  Cassirer  showed  little  desire  to  go  to 
some  small  university  town  and  live  there  for  years  in  its  at- 
mosphere of  gossip  and  latent  anti-Semitism.  He  much  pre- 
ferred to  stay  in  Berlin,  where  most  of  his  and  his  wife's 
relatives  lived  and  where  the  treasure  of  the  State  and  Uni- 
versity libraries  were  at  his  disposal.  His  work  developed 
rapidly,  and  as  early  as  1904  the  two  volumes  of  his 
Erkenntnisfroblem  ("Problem  of  Knowledge")  were  finished. 
It  was  one  of  Cohen's  most  cherished  stories  how  once,  while 
visiting  Cassirer  in  Berlin  in  1904,  he  had  asked  Cassirer  how 
his  work  was  progressing.  "Without  saying  a  word,"  Cohen 
would  relate,  "Cassirer  led  me  into  his  study,  opened  a  drawer 
of  his  desk,  and  there  it  was,  a  voluminous,  completely  finished 
manuscript  of  his  new  work." 


14  DIMITRY  GAWRONSKY 

In  1906  the  first  volume  of  the  Erkenntnis-problem  ("Prob- 
lem of  Knowledge")  was  published,  followed  by  the  second 
one  in  1908.  The  outstanding  qualities  of  this  work  were 
rapidly  recognized  by  students  of  philosophy  all  over  the 
world}  it  appeared  in  several  editions  and  slowly  became  one  of 
the  standard  works  on  the  history  of  human  thought.  Cassirer's 
original  intention  had  been  to  give  a  broad  picture  of  modern 
European  thought  as  it  led  to,  and  culminated  in,  the  philoso- 
phy of  Kant.  This  he  did  in  the  first  two  volumes  of  his 
Erkenntnis'problem.  Fifteen  years  later  he  added  one  more 
volume,  in  which  he  set  forth  the  development  of  epistemology 
in  post-Kantian  philosophy;  and  shortly  before  he  came  to 
America  (in  the  summer  of  1941)  he  finished  the — as  yet  un- 
published— fourth  volume,  where  he  has  given  a  broad  picture 
of  the  evolution  of  epistemology  up  to  our  own  days.* 

The  more  one  studies  this  work  of  Cassirer,  the  more  one 
admires  the  intellectual  scope  of  the  man  who  was  able  to  write 
it.  Immense  was  the  number  of  books  Cassirer  had  to  study  and 
familiarize  himself  with  in  the  interest  of  this  work.  And  yet, 
this  is  the  least  spectacular  part  of  it.  Really  amazing  is 
Cassirer's  ability  to  penetrate  scores  of  individual  systems  of 
thought,  reconstruct  them  in  all  their  peculiarities,  accentuate 
all  that  is  original  and  fruitful  in  them,  and  reveal  all  their 
weaknesses  and  inconsistencies.  Cassirer  had  an  incredibly  fine 
mind  for  the  slightest  nuances  of  thought,  for  the  minutest 
differences  and  similarities,  for  all  that  was  of  fundamental  or 
of  secondary  importance;  with  steady  grasp  he  picked  up  the 
development  through  all  its  stages  and  ramifications;  and,  in 
showing  how  the  same  concept  acquired  a  different  meaning, 
according  to  the  diverse  philosophical  systems  in  which  it  was 
applied  as  a  constructive  element,  Cassirer  laid  the  first  founda- 
tion for  the  ideas  which  he  later  developed  as  his  theory  of 
"symbolic  forms."  Scores  of  Italian  and  German,  French  and 
English  philosophers,  almost  or  completely  fallen  into  oblivion, 
came  back  in  Cassirer's  book  to  new  life  and  historical  impor- 

*  EDITOR'S  NOTE:  This  (fourth)  volume  of  Cassirer's  Erkennlnis'problem  is 
now  being  translated  into  English  under  the  direction  of  Professor  Charles  W. 
Hendel  and  will  in  due  time  be  published  by  the  Yale  University  Press. 


CASSIRER:  HIS  LIFE  AND  HIS  WORK  15 

tance  as  organic  links  in  the  development  of  ideas  or  as  con- 
nections between  well  known  philosophical  systems}  thus  mak- 
ing the  continuity  of  philosophical  thought  more  consistent  and 
true.  He  was  the  first  to  introduce  into  the  history  of  philosophy 
such  names  as  Kepler,  Galileo,  Huygens,  Newton,  and  Euler, 
by  giving  a  detailed  analysis  of  their  philosophical  conceptions, 
scientific  methods  and  achievements,  and  by  proving  their 
fundamental  importance  for  the  theory  of  knowledge.  Kant's 
own  assertion  that  he  tried  to  introduce  Newton's  method  into 
philosophy  now  became  quite  clear  in  Cassirer's  representation 
of  Newton's  and  Kant's  systems  of  thought.  Yet  Cassirer's 
greatest  achievement  in  this  work  consisted  in  the  creation  of  a 
broad  general  background  by  connecting  the  evolution  of 
knowledge  with  the  totality  of  spiritual  culture:  mythos  and 
religion,  psychology  and  metaphysics,  ethics  and  aesthetics — 
Cassirer  drew  all  these  problems  into  his  deliberations  as  soon  as 
he  found  some  links  missing  in  the  development  of  their 
epistemology. 

Most  noteworthy  is  also  the  style  and  the  whole  manner  of 
presentation  in  this  work.  The  most  intricate  philosophical  prob- 
lems are  treated  in  a  quite  clear  and  simple  way;  one  gets  the 
impression  that  the  author  deeply  felt  his  responsibility  to  truth 
and  to  the  reader;  in  every  sentence  he  sincerely  tried  to  help 
the  reader  to  advance  on  the  thorny  path  of  truth.  Cassirer's 
style  makes  any  subject  he  discusses  almost  transparent,  and 
his  argumentation  glides  along  like  a  broad  and  mighty  stream, 
with  great  convincing  power. 

The  great  success  of  his  Erkenntnisproblem,  which  became 
obvious  immediately  after  the  appearance  of  the  first  volume, 
caused  Cassirer  to  yield  to  Cohen's  ardent  desire  and  to  embark 
finally  upon  an  academic  career.  Yet,  there  was  one  condition 
attached  to  it — he  was  ready  to  become  Privatdozent  only  in  the 
University  of  Berlin,  since  he  still  did  not  want  to  leave  the 
city.  He  knew  how  difficult  this  undertaking  was,  first,  because 
he  was  a  Jew,  and  secondly,  because  he  was  Cohen's  disciple  and 
considered  himself  a  member  of  the  Marburg  school,  which 
at  that  time  was  one  of  the  most  renowned — and  hated — 
"schools"  in  Germany.  In  his  quiet  manner  Cassirer  said  to 


1 6  DIMITRY  GAWRONSKY 

Cohen:  "In  this  way  I  do  not  risk  anything.  I  need  not  go  any- 
where and  waste  my  time.  And  if  they  do  not  want  me — it  is  all 
right  with  me." 

At  that  time  philosophy  was  by  no  means  brilliantly  repre- 
sented at  the  University  of  Berlin.  The  famous  Dilthey  was 
already  retired  and  only  occasionally  gave  a  few  lectures  for  a 
selected  group  of  students.  Simmel  was  still  there,  but  owing 
to  his  Jewish  lineage  and  notwithstanding  the  importance  of 
his  books  (especially  his  voluminous  Soziologie,  which  became 
a  standard  work  of  pre-Hitlerite  German  science)  and  the 
brilliant  success  of  his  lectures,  he  was  an  assistant  professor  and 
virtually  without  any  influence.  The  leading  roles  were  played 
by  Stumpf  and  Riehl,  both  quite  serious  scholars,  but  without 
any  real  importance  (the  following  untranslatable  pun  was  then 
very  popular  with  the  students  at  the  University  of  Berlin: 
"Philosophic  wird  in  Berlin  mit  Stumpf  und  Riehl  aus- 
gerottet").  Stumpf  was  bitterly  opposed  to  any  form  of  idealis- 
tic philosophy ;  Riehl  tried  to  interpret  Kant  in  a  realistic  sense 
and  was  an  outspoken  antagonist  of  the  Marburg  "school."  Yet 
it  was  precisely  these  two  men  that  Cassirer  had  to  deal  with 
when  he  decided  to  become  Privatdozent  of  the  University  of 
Berlin. 

According  to  the  regulations  valid  at  that  time  in  the  Uni- 
versity of  Berlin  a  candidate  for  "Privatdozentur"  had  to  pre- 
sent a  scientific  study — in  the  form  of  a  book  or  manuscript — 
and  then,  if  his  study  had  been  accepted,  he  was  invited  to  a  so- 
called  colloquium,  where  he  had  to  give  a  trial  lecture  and  to 
answer  questions  or  critical  comments  on  views  expressed  by 
him.  Cassirer  sent  in  his  Erkenntnisproblem,  which  was  at  once 
accepted.  A  few  weeks  later  he  was  invited  to  the  colloquium, 
and  as  subject  for  his  trial  lecture  he  had  chosen  the  "Ding  an 
sichy"  one  of  the  most  intricate  concepts  of  Kant's  philosophy.  In 
his  Erkenntmsfwoblem  Cassirer  had  given  a  very  interesting 
interpretation  of  this  notion:  he  showed  that  the  "Ding  an 
sichy"  being  within  Kant's  philosophy  always  a  limit  of  a 
maximum  or  minimum  value,  radically  changed  its  meaning 
according  to  the  particular  group  or  system  of  concepts  with 
reference  to  which  in  any  given  case  it  played  the  role  of  the 


CASSIRER:  HIS  LIFE  AND  HIS  WORK  17 

limit.  Thus,  the  "Ding  an  s\ch"  has  one  meaning  in  the 
"Transcendentale  Aesthetik"  (Part  I  of  Kritik  der  reinen 
Vernunft^y  and  an  essentially  different  meaning  in  the  "Deduc- 
tion der  reinen  Verstandesbegriffe"  (Part  II  of  the  same  work), 
and  it  is,  therefore,  fruitless  to  define  this  notion  without  taking 
into  consideration  the  peculiar  nature  of  the  specific  ideas  with 
which  it  is  connected  in  any  special  case. 

Here  again  we  can  vividly  feel  the  future  originator  of  the 
theory  of  "symbolic  forms."  Yet,  Stumpf  and  Riehl  were,  of 
course,  not  satisfied  at  all,  and  they  both,  especially  the  latter, 
violently  attacked  Cassirer's  theory.  "You  deny  the  existence  of 
real  things  surrounding  us,"  said  Riehl.  "Look  at  that  oven 
there  in  the  corner:  to  me  it  is  a  real  thing,  which  gives  us  heat 
and  can  burn  our  skin;  but  to  you  it  is  just  a  mental  image,  a 
fiction!"  Time  and  again  Cassirer  tried  to  explain  the  true 
meaning  of  the  Kantian  criticism,  that  human  reason  creates  our 
knowledge  of  things,  but  not  the  things  themselves;  yet  with- 
out avail.  When  the  colloquium  was  over,  both  Stumpf  and 
Riehl  pleaded  against  admitting  Cassirer  as  Privatdozent.  But 
Dilthey,  who  was  also  present  at  the  colloquium,  decisively 
took  Cassirer Js  side  and  finished  his  plea  with  these  words:  "I 
would  not  like  to  be  a  man  of  whom  posterity  will  say  that  he 
rejected  Cassirer."  This  was  sufficient  to  turn  the  tide:  without 
further  discussion  the  faculty  gave  Cassirer  the  venia  legendi. 

In  subsequent  years  the  writer  of  this  biography  came  to 
Berlin  many  times  and  frequently  had  the  opportunity  of  at- 
tending Cassirer's  lectures.  Thus  he  was  able  to  observe 
Cassirer's  rapidly  growing  popularity;  he  saw  how  the  original 
attendance  of  a  few  students  grew  to  several  dozens,  then  to 
many  scores.  This  was  an  outstanding  success;  for  at  that  time 
Cassirer's  lectures  were  not  obligatory  for  anyone,  and  his  class- 
room was,  therefore,  crowded  only  because  the  students  felt 
that  what  they  got  from  him  was  true  and  substantial  knowl- 
edge. Besides,  his  delivery  was  most  attractive,  his  speech  was 
very  vivid  and  fluent,  exact  and  eloquent  at  the  same  time. 
Especially  popular  were  Cassirer Js  seminars;  there,  in  close 
personal  contact  with  his  students,  he  displayed  all  the  charm 
and  benevolence  of  his  nature,  he  analyzed  with  endless  patience 


1 8  DIMITRY  GAWRONSKY 

and  sympathetic  understanding  any  expressed  opinion  and,  if 
necessary,  cautiously  corrected  it  or  interpreted  it  in  the  most 
fruitful  possible  way.  He  was  a  true  paidagogos  in  the  Platonic 
sense,  deeply  convinced  that  the  teacher  is  largely  to  blame  for 
the  insufficiencies  of  his  pupil. 

However,  when  circumstances  demanded  it,  Cassirer  could 
show  that  he  was  a  real  master  of  fencing.  Once — it  was  in 
Berlin,  in  1910 — our  common  friend  persuaded  us  to  attend  a 
lecture  of  a  disciple  of  Avenarius.  The  lecture  was  quite  con- 
fused and  Cassirer  was  quite  irritated  by  the  lack  of  knowledge 
and  understanding  shown  by  the  speaker.  During  the  discussion, 
Cassirer  took  the  floor  and  in  the  short  space  of  less  than  half  an 
hour  he  not  merely  revealed  his  amazingly  deep  and  exact 
knowledge  of  Avenarius,  but  he  uncovered  so  brilliantly  all  the 
inconsistencies  of  the  main  speaker  that  the  entire  lecture 
seemed  literally  to  dissolve  into  thin  air  before  our  very  eyes. 
When  he  finished,  the  audience  cheered  and  laughed  and  went 
home  without  even  listening  to  the  lecturer's  attempted  stam- 
mering rejoinder.  Much  more  important,  however,  was  another 
occasion  where  Cassirer  displayed  his  qualifications  as  a  brilliant 
polemicist.  It  was  when  Leonard  Nelson,  the  founder  of  the 
so-called  New-Friesian  "school,"  violently  attacked  Hermann 
Cohen.  Here  again  it  was  the  unfairness  of  the  criticism,  the 
lack  of  understanding  or  any  desire  for  true  understanding 
which  induced  Cassirer  to  answer  Nelson.  A  polemic  developed 
which  could  have  become  very  interesting,  if  the  opponents  had 
been  equal  in  intellectual  stature.  As  things  were,  Cassirer 
towered  above  his  antagonist  to  such  a  degree  that  all  the  time 
they  fought  on  different  levels:  Nelson  tried  to  ridicule  single 
sentences,  taken  out  of  Cohen's  books,  especially  of  his  Logik 
der  reinen  Erkenntnis,  which  is  a  profound  and  creative  work 
but  a  hard  nut  to  crack}  whereas  Cassirer  was  mainly  interested 
in  the  very  roots  of  the  dissension  and  tried  to  show,  by  analyz- 
ing the  original  Kant-Fries  relationship,  the  dangers  of  an  ex- 
aggerated psychologism  for  epistemology. 

The  first  great  systematic  work  of  Cassirer  appeared  in  1910, 
his  Stibstanzbegrif  und  Funktionsbegrif.  Despite  the  origi- 
nality of  the  basic  conception  and  whole  structure  of  this  work — 


CASSIRER:  HIS  LIFE  AND  HIS  WORK  19 

or,  maybe  just  because  of  this — ,  it  was  several  years  before 
the  importance  of  this  work  was  duly  recognized  by  the  scien- 
tific world  and  by  the  philosophically  interested  public.  Then, 
however,  it  became  the  first  work  of  Cassirer  to  be  translated 
into  several  foreign  languages,  including  English  and  Russian, 
As  the  title  of  the  book  indicates,  it  is  devoted  to  the  problem 
of  concepts.  (Although  in  the  title  of  the  authorized  English 
translation,  viz.,  Substance  and  Function,  this  fact  is  almost  lost 
sight  of.)  For  more  than  two  thousand  years  the  science  of  logic 
was  based  upon  Aristotle's  doctrine  of  concepts,  which  says 
that  generalization  is  always  the  result  of  abstraction:  from  a 
group  of  similar  things, — for  instance,  round,  oval,  square, 
rectangular  tables — the  attributes  common  to  them  all  are  ab- 
stracted and  summarized  in  a  general  concept,  "table."  This 
theory,  Cassirer  argues,  has  one  decisive  weakness:  whence  and 
how  do  we  get  those  groups  of  similar  things  that  we  allegedly 
use  as  the  basis  for  our  abstractions?  How  does  it  happen  that 
from  one  perception,  say  that  of  a  round  table,  we  proceed  to 
other  perceptions  which  are  similar  to  the  first  one  and  not  to 
the  perceptions  of,  for  instance,  "auto,"  "star,"  "water,"  in 
which  case  we  would  not  obtain  a  group  of  similar  things?  Is  it 
not  obvious  that  we  use  the  first  perception  as  a  kind  of  criterion 
with  the  help  of  which  we  are  able  to  decide  what  belongs  to 
our  group  of  similar  things  and  what  not?  Thus  Aristotle's 
abstraction  becomes  only  possible  as  the  result  of  a  selec- 
tion, of  the  coordinated  activity  of  the  human  reason,  which  is 
the  first  and  fundamental  step  toward  general  notions.  "What 
lends  the  theory  of  abstraction  support  is  merely  the  circum- 
stance that  it  does  not  presuppose  the  contents,  out  of  which 
the  concept  is  to  develop,  as  disconnected  particularities,  but  that 
it  tacitly  thinks  them  in  the  form  of  an  ordered  manifold  from 
the  first.  The  concept,  however,  is  not  deduced  thereby,  but 
presupposed;  for,  when  we  ascribe  to  a  manifold  an  order  and 
connection  of  elements,  we  have  already  presupposed  the  con- 
cept, if  not  in  its  complete  form,  yet  in  its  fundamental  func- 
tion."1 

Thus  Aristotle's  theory  of  concept,  based  upon  the  abstraction 

1  Ernst  Cassirer,  Substance  and  Function.  Chicago — London,  1923,  p.  17. 


20  DIMITRY  GAWRONSKY 

of  common  elements  from  a  group  of  similar  things,  is  nothing 
else  than  an  obvious  circulus  viciosus.  Yet  this  is  not  all.  The 
theory  of  abstraction  shows  also  another  decisive  weakness:  in 
order  to  form  a  concept  only  such  attributes  are  retained  which 
are  common  to  all  elements  of  a  given  group,  whereas  all 
particularities  are  not  included  in  a  general  concept — they  are 
just  thrown  aside  and  fade  away.  And  the  more  general  a  con- 
cept is,  the  less  attributes  it  contains,  the  more  particularities 
disappear  in  the  process  of  abstraction.  Yet,  "the  genuine  con- 
cept does  not  disregard  the  peculiarities  and  particularities  which 
it  holds  under  it,  but  seeks  to  show  the  necessity  of  the  occurrence 
and  connection  of  just  these  particularities.  .  .  .  Here  the  more 
universal  concept  shows  itself  also  the  more  rich  in  content."2 
Scientific  concepts  are  all  of  this  kind}  they  are  general  ideas, 
but  their  true  function  consists  of  expressing  the  rule  from  which 
a  number  of  concrete  particular  forms  can  be  derived. 

In  his  Substance  and  Function  Cassirer  also  undertook  the 
difficult  task  of  showing  what  particular  kinds  of  concepts 
underly  the  different  realms  of  the  exact  and  natural  sciences, 
what  is  the  logical  essence  of  such  categories  as  number,  space, 
time,  energy,  and  so  forth.  Cassirer  was  particularly  interested 
in  the  problem  of  how  the  structure  of  concepts  changes  its 
character  when  we  pass  from  one  field  of  science  to  another  j 
for  instance,  from  mathematics  to  physics,  or  from  physics  to 
biology,  etc.  In  carrying  out  this  plan,  he  made,  for  the  first 
time  in  the  history  of  human  thought,  the  very  important  and 
successful  attempt  to  give  a  systematic  analysis  of  concepts 
which  underly  the  science  of  chemistry.  The  last  part  of  the 
book  is  devoted  to  the  theory  of  knowledge  proper,  to  the  con- 
cepts and  methods  by  which  human  reason  transforms  sensory 
impressions  into  the  systems  of  objective  science. 

The  members  of  the  Marburg  school  were  very  proud  of  this 
new  performance  of  Cassirer.  Yet,  the  opposition  came  this  time 
from  a  quarter  from  which  it  had  been  least  expected — from 
Hermann  Cohen  himself.  Already  while  reading  the  proofs, 
Cohen  obtained  the  impression,  that — as  he  expressed  it  later 
in  a  letter  to  Cassirer — "our  unity  was  jeopardized."  Especially 

pp.  19-20. 


CASSIRER:  HIS  LIFE  AND  HIS  WORK  21 

one  long  paragraph  in  Cassirer's  book  seemed  to  Cohen  to  be 
quite  inconsistent  with  the  teachings  of  the  Marburg  school, 
and,  although  all  of  Cohen's  closest  disciples  were  convinced 
that  Cohen  was  mistaken,  Cassirer,  who  invariably  held  Cohen 
in  deepest  respect,  at  once  decided  to  reshape  the  whole  page, 
despite  the  fact  that  he  did  not  agree  with  Cohen  and  that  his 
book  was  already  in  the  final  stages  of  printing.  Upon  reading 
the  finished  book,  Cohen  wrote  to  Cassirer:  "I  congratulate  you 
and  all  members  of  our  philosophical  community  on  your  new 
and  great  achievement.  If  I  shall  not  be  able  to  write  the  second 
part  of  my  Logic,  no  harm  will  be  done  to  our  common  cause, 
since  my  project  is  to  a  large  degree  fulfilled  in  your  book."3 
But  the  criticism  comes  after  that:  "Yet,  after  my  first  reading 
of  your  book  I  still  cannot  discard  as  wrong  what  I  told  you  in 
Marburg:  you  put  the  center  of  gravity  upon  the  concept  of 
relation  and  you  believe  that  you  have  accomplished  with  the 
help  of  this  concept  the  idealization  of  all  materiality.  The  ex- 
pression even  escaped  you,  that  the  concept  of  relation  is  a 
category;  yet  it  is  a  category  only  insofar  as  it  is  function,  and 
function  unavoidably  demands  the  infinitesimal  element  in 
which  alone  the  root  of  the  ideal  reality  can  be  found." 

The  controversy  goes  back  to  Cohen's  daring  attempt  to 
establish  the  infinitesimal  numbers  as  an  absolute  element,  to 
put  this  absolute  element  before  the  whole  number  and  to  de- 
rive the  latter  from  the  former.  There  can  be  little  doubt, 
logically  as  well  as  mathematically,  that  this  is  an  impossible 
undertaking;  the  value  of  a  number  depends  always  on  its 
relation  to  other  numbers  in  which  it  may  be  contemplated: 
five  is  only  fiye  in  relation  to  one,  yet  it  is  an  infinite  number  in 
relation  to  an  infinitesimal  one,  and  an  infinitesimal  number  in 
relation  to  an  infinite  one.  Cassirer's  "function,"  as  contrasted 
with  "substance,"  meant  just  that:  it  is  impossible  to  ascribe  an 
absolute  value  to  a  mathematical  element,  since  this  value  is 
determined  by  different  relations  to  which  it  may  belong. 

Cassirer's  theory  of  concept  proved  its  great  fruitfulness  for 
the  whole  field  of  theoretical  knowledge;  it  freed  the  principles 
and  methods  of  human  reason  from  the  shadow  of  absoluteness 

3  From  Cohen's  letter  to  Cassirer  of  August  24,  1910. 


22  DIMITRY  GAWRONSKY 

and  disclosed  their  functional  nature  as  flexible  instruments  of 
human  knowledge.  And  just  as  the  functional  concept  contains 
a  direction,  a  certain  point  of  view  which  serves  as  a  basis  of 
measurement  for  the  similarity  of  single  elements  and  arranges 
them  in  groups  and  series  according  to  their  affinity,  so  "the 
ideal  connections  spoken  of  by  logic  and  mathematics  are  the 
permanent  lines  of  direction,  by  which  experience  is  orientated 
in  its  scientific  shaping.  The  function  of  these  connections  is  their 
permanent  and  indestructible  value,  and  is  verified  as  identical 
through  all  changes  in  the  accidental  material  of  experience."4 

The  publication  of  this  important  work  brought  about  no 
change  in  Cassirer's  academic  career  j  he  was  still  Privatdozent 
in  Berlin,  and  not  one  single  German  university  invited  him, 
even  as  an  assistant  professor.  Every  time  a  chair  in  philosophy 
became  free,  Cassirer  was  invariably  listed  by  the  respective 
faculty  as  a  candidate,  but,  oddly  enough,  his  name  was  always 
put  in  the  second  place.  Cassirer  himself  was  quite  content  with 
his  limited  academic  activities  in  the  University  of  Berlin ;  he 
not  only  never  complained,  but  he  did  not  even  seem  to  feel  the 
unfairness  of  the  situation.  He  enjoyed  his  life  and  work  in 
Berlin,  his  great  success  as  teacher  and  scholar,  even  though 
officially  it  remained  unrecognized. 

Harvard  University  was  the  first  to  invite  him,  in  1914,  for 
two  years  as  visiting  professor.  However,  personal  reasons  pre- 
vented Cassirer  at  that  time  from  accepting  this  invitation.  The 
same  year  he  was  awarded  the  Kuno  Fischer  Gold  Medal  by  the 
Heidelberg  Academy.  Upon  Cassirer's  special  request  he  was 
given  a  bronze  medal  instead,  and  the  difference  in  monetary 
value — 3,000  R.M. — was  sent  to  the  Red  Cross. 

Although  Cassirer  was  highly  absorbed  by  his  research  work 
and  academic  activities,  he  still  found  time  to  organize  and 
direct  a  new  edition  of  Kant's  works.  For  this  edition  he  wrote 
an  extensive  biographical  and  philosophical  introduction  to 
Kant's  system.  In  this  introduction  he  gives  a  very  clear — both 
popular  and  truly  scientific — picture  of  the  evolution  of  Kant's 
central  ideas  and  makes  several  important  contributions  to  the 
understanding  of  Kant's  philosophy.  Perhaps  the  most  important 

4  Op.  cit.,  p.  323. 


CASSIRER:  HIS  LIFE  AND  HIS  WORK  23 

of  these  contributions  is  Cassirer's  analysis  of  the  fundamental 
ideas  of  Kant's  Kritik  der  Urteilskrajt  and  his  explanation  of 
why  Kant  based  his  theory  of  judgment  upon  two  seemingly 
so  different  roots  as  the  philosophy  of  art,  on  the  one  hand,  and 
biology,  on  the  other. 

Thus  far  all  of  Cassirer's  publications  had  been  devoted  to 
the  problem  of  knowledge.  Although  he  was  vitally  interested 
in  all  the  problems  of  art,  ethics,  and  religion,  and  assiduously 
worked  on  them,  he  somehow  did  not  feel  ready  to  write  down 
the  results  of  his  research;  and  meanwhile  he  was  busy  with  the 
preparations  for  the  third  volume  of  his  Erkewntws'problem. 
The  outbreak  of  the  First  World  War  changed  his  plans.  He 
was  drafted  for  Civil  Service,  and  his  work  consisted  of  the 
reading  of  foreign  newspapers.  Thus  he  was  able  to  contemplate 
the  war  from  different  points  of  view  and  to  obtain  a  truer 
picture  of  events  j  he  knew  already  in  the  early  stages  of  the 
war  that  Germany  was  doomed.  Besides,  his  whole  nature  was 
absolutely  contrary  to  the  imperialistic  megalomania  of  Prus- 
sian militarism.  Yet  he  was  a  philosopher,  not  a  politician,  and 
he  found  his  own  way  of  expressing  his  attitude  toward  the 
ultimate  spiritual  values  around  which  the  struggle  raged:  he 
published  his  book  Freiheit  und  Form. 

All  truly  humanitarian  and  idealistic  tendencies  of  German 
culture,  everything  which  proclaimed  the  dignity  and  freedom 
of  individuals  and  of  nations — Leasing  and  Schiller,  Kant  and 
Goethe — was  convincingly  and  eloquently  expounded  by  Cas- 
sirer  in  this  book,  providing  a  magnificent  picture  of  man's 
struggle  for  his  spiritual  liberation,  showing  Lessing's  cosmo- 
politanism and  sublime  tolerance,  Schiller's  keen  sensitiveness 
and  passion  for  freedom,  Kant's  radical,  conception  of  natural 
right,  and  Goethe's  redemption  of  the  individual  as  milestones 
of  this  eternal  process. 

Cassirer  showed  in  this  book  that  his  feeling  for  all  forms  of 
poetry  was  just  as  deep  and  incisive  as  his  understanding  of 
science.  His  interpretation  of  Goethe's  lyrics,  his  analysis  of 
Goethe's  poetical  work  in  the  different  stages  of  its  develop- 
ment belong  to  the  best  that  has  ever  been  written  on  this  sub- 
ject. Cassirer's  strong  artistic  vein  enabled  him  to  grasp  the 


24  DIMITRY  GAWRONSKY 

inner  core  of  Goethe's  symbols,  to  provide  those  symbols  with 
profound  and  most  surprising  interpretation.  "Mahomed," 
"Pandora" — to  mention  only  two  examples — in  Cassirer's 
masterly  exposition  appeared  suddenly  in  a  new  light  and  their 
unfathomable  wisdom  and  beauty  became  visible  to  anyone.  No 
less  penetrating  was  his  analysis  of  Goethe's  achievements  in  the 
fields  of  aesthetics,  morals,  and  religion.  Cassirer  always  felt 
keenly  that  great  poets  and  belletrists  were,  in  their  innermost, 
endeavoring  to  find  a  solution  to  the  eternal  problems  of  being 
and  life,  akin  to  the  search  of  the  great  philosophers}  they  only 
expressed  their  thoughts  and  beliefs  in  the  form  of  concrete 
symbols  and  images,  and  not  in  the  form  of  abstract  reasoning. 
Goethe's  titanic  personality,  the  originality,  depth  and  versa- 
tility of  his  creative  power  irresistibly  attracted  Cassirer  all  his 
life,  and  in  a  long  series  of  special  articles  he  followed  up  his 
study  of  Goethe.  Brilliant  was  the  way  in  which  he  revealed  the 
deepest  ideological  roots  of  Goethe's  polemic  attitude  towards 
Newton,  or  described  Goethe's  conception  of  history,  or  com- 
pared the  spiritual  worlds  of  Goethe  and  Plato.  All  who  knew 
Cassirer  personally  admitted  that  his  face  reminded  them  of 
Goethe^  yet  their  mental  similarity  was  even  more  striking — it 
was  the  same  wide  scope  of  spiritual  interests,  the  same  tend- 
ency to  regard  every  event  in  the  light  of  endless  historical 
perspectives,  to  transform  every  single  fact  into  an  element  of 
an  infinite  system.  It  was  undoubtedly  this  affinity  of  mental 
tendencies  which  accounted  for  Cassirer's  unique  understanding 
of  Goethe — 

War  nicht  das  Auge  sonnenhaft, 

Die  Sonne  Konnt'  es  nie  erblicken.  .  .  . 

World  War  I  brought  a  deep  spiritual  crisis  in  Europe.  One 
belief  especially  had  been  shattered  to  its  very  foundation:  the 
idea  that  human  reason  was  a  decisive  power  in  the  social  life 
of  man.  When,  at  the  beginning  of  the  twentieth  century, 
Georges  Sorel  advanced  his  theory  that  not  reason  but  social 
myth  was  the  driving  power  of  human  history,  that  the  actions 
of  human  societies  were  determined  not  by  objective  truth  and 
cool  deliberation  but  by  peculiar  images,  mostly  born  out  of 
hatred,  revulsion,  contempt,  and  filled  with  strong  impulses  and 


CASSIRER:  HIS  LIFE  AND  HIS  WORK  25 

emotions,  images,  which  have  nothing  to  do  with  truth  and 
often  represent  the  greatest  possible  falsehood — the  scholars 
only  laughed  at  him  and  paid  no  attention  at  all  to  his  "queer" 
ideas.  Yet,  the  progress  of  the  war  and  the  subsequent  years 
which  saw  the  birth  of  several  totalitarian  ideologies  and  their 
victorious  march  to  power  in  the  largest  countries  of  Europe, 
ruined  and  disarrayed  by  the  war,  clearly  showed  the  extent 
of  truth  contained  in  Sorel's  social  theories.  The  stormy  pace  of 
historical  events  demanded  a  new  approach  to  the  problems  of 
reality,  different  ways  and  means  for  its  understanding.  This 
was  the  background  for  Cassirer's  theory  of  symbolic  forms — 
his  great  contribution  to  the  understanding  of  the  most  vital 
problems  of  our  time  and  of  history. 

When  the  author  of  this  article  again  met  Cassirer,  shortly 
after  the  termination  of  World  War  I,  Cassirer  was  already 
quite  absorbed  in  his  new  work.  Cassirer  once  told  how  in  1917, 
just  as  he  entered  a  street  car  to  ride  home,  the  conception  of  the 
symbolic  forms  flashed  upon  him  5  a  few  minutes  later,  when  he 
reached  his  home,  the  whole  plan  of  his  new  voluminous  work 
was  ready  in  his  mind,  in  essentially  the  form  in  which  it  was 
carried  out  in  the  course  of  the  subsequent  ten  years.  Suddenly 
the  onesidedness  of  the  Kant-Cohen  theory  of  knowledge  be- 
came quite  clear  to  Cassirer.  It  is  not  true  that  only  the  human 
reason  opens  the  door  which  leads  to  the  understanding  of 
reality,  it  is  rather  the  whole  of  the  human  mind,  with  all  its 
functions  and  impulses,  all  its  potencies  of  imagination,  feeling, 
volition,  and  logical  thinking  which  builds  the  bridge  between 
man's  soul  and  reality,  which  determines  and  moulds  our  con- 
ception of  reality.  "The  true  concept  of  reality  cannot  be  pressed 
into  a  plain  and  abstract  form  of  being,  it  rather  contains  the 
whole  manifold  and  wealth  of  spiritual  life.  ...  In  this  sense 
any  new  'symbolic  form' — not  only  the  concept  and  system  of 
knowledge,  but  also  the  intuitive  world  of  art  or  myth  or  langu- 
age, represents — according  to  a  saying  of  Goethe's — a  revela- 
tion directed  from  the  inside  toward  the  outside,  a  'synthesis  of 
world  and  mind,'  which  alone  makes  certain  for  us  the  genuine 
unity  of  both."5  The  whole  world  of  reality  can  be  grasped 

5  Ernst  Cassirer,  Phttosofhie  der  symbolischen  Formen.  Vol.  I,  p.  46. 


26  DIMITRY  GAWRONSKY 

only  with  the  help  of  certain  mental  images,  symbolic  forms, 
and  the  task  of  philosophy  consists  in  the  understanding  of  those 
mental  and  psychical  functions  which  determine  the  structure 
of  these  symbolic  forms.  A  queer  image  of  primitive  totemism 
may  be  vastly  different  from  the  modern  conception  of  four- 
dimentional  space,  yet  they  both  show  a  definite  regularity  of 
inward  structure,  they  both  can  be  reduced  to  some  fundamental 
functions  of  the  human  mind.  Even  the  spiritual  world  of 
lunatics  reveals  to  an  attentive  analysis  some  definite  regularities 
which  find  their  expression  in  queer  but  still  understandable 
symbolic  forms  and  their  study  proved  to  be  helpful  for  the 
diagnosis  and  treatment  of  certain  mental  diseases. 

The  whole  of  human  culture  is  reflected  in  our  mind  in  an 
endless  row  of  symbolic  forms,  and  Cassirer  now  embarked 
upon  the  titanic  task  of  first  trying  to  analyze  the  structure  of 
these  forms  in  general,  and,  secondly,  to  show  what  special  kind 
of  symbolic  forms  underlie  the  different  realms  of  human  life 
— religion,  art,  science,  social  activities.  For  many  years  the 
external  conditions  of  his  life  were  greatly  favorable  to  this 
immense  task:  during  World  War  I  two  new  universities  were 
founded  in  Germany,  one  in  Hamburg  and  the  other  in  Frank- 
furt, both  quite  progressive  and  democratic,  and  the  first  thing 
they  both  did  was  to  offer  Cassirer  a  full  professorship  in 
philosophy.  Cassirer  decided  to  accept  the  offer  of  the  Uni- 
versity of  Hamburg  because  it  showed  an  exceptionally  great 
eagerness  for  securing  his  services.  He  never  regretted  his 
choice — in  Hamburg  he  found  everything  he  could  desire:  a 
large  and  most  interested  audience  for  his  lectures,  and  the 
famous  private  "Warburg  Library"  with  a  rich  collection  of 
materials  which  Cassirer  needed  for  his  researches  into  symbolic 
forms.  Many  times  Cassirer  expressed  his  positive  amazement 
at  the  fact  that  the  selection  of  the  materials  and  the  whole  in- 
ward structure  of  this  library  suggested  the  idea  that  its 
founder  must  have  more  or  less  anticipated  his  theory  of 
symbolic  forms  as  a  system  of  fundamental  functions  of  the 
human  mind  underlying  all  basic  tendencies  of  human  culture 
and  explaining  the  particular  nature  of  any  one  of  them. 


CASSIRER:  HIS  LIFE  AND  HIS  WORK  27 

In  the  years  1923-1929  the  three  volumes  of  his  Philosophie 
der  symbolischen  Formen  were  composed  and  published.  Based 
upon  vast  historical  and  systematical  material,  the  work  gives 
a  penetrating  analysis  of  Cassirer's  general  theory  of  symbolic 
forms  and  of  its  application  to  the  problems  of  language,  of 
myths,  and  of  knowledge.  Almost  incredible  is  the  wealth  of 
concrete  facts  and  original  ideas  by  means  of  which  Cassirer  shows 
the  fruitfulness  of  his  theory.  Almost  the  entire  world's  litera- 
ture on  language  and  myths,  almost  all  the  realms  of  human 
science  had  been  closely  explored  by  him  and  the  particular 
kinds  of  symbolic  forms  in  those  different  realms  shown  in  bold 
and  broad  relief.  Yet,  even  this  immense  job  did  not  take  all  of 
Cassirer's  time  and  energy.  During  the  same  years,  while  work- 
ing out  and  writing  down  his  Philoso'phie  der  symbolischen 
Formeny  he  finished  the  third  volume  of  his  Erkenntnityrob- 
lemy  he  wrote  a  book  on  Einstein's  theory  of  relativity  and  pub- 
lished literally  scores  of  philosophical  and  literary  articles.  Be- 
sides, he  eagerly  performed  his  duties  as  academic  teacher,  gave 
weekly  several  lectures  and  seminars,  and  was  most  accessible 
to  any  student  who  desired  his  help  on  philosophical  problems. 

Despite  this  immense  amount  of  intellectual  work  which 
Cassirer  performed  day  after  day,  there  was  nothing  of  the 
ivory  tower  pedant  in  him;  he  spent  almost  every  evening  in  the 
circle  of  his  family  and  of  his  friends,  and  he  showed  a  lively 
interest  in  all  world-events.  It  was  amazing  to  what  a  degree  he 
was  able  to  keep  abreast  of  so  many  things  which  had  no  relation 
whatsoever  to  his  scientific  work — he  was  a  thorough  connois- 
seur of  classical  music,  and  in  the  classical  operas  he  knew  not 
only  every  single  melody,  but  also  every  word  of  the  text,  often 
even  in  several  different  languages.  He  knew  a  great  deal  about 
many  fields  of  sport  and  was  able  to  discuss  some  intricate  prob- 
lems of  passiance  or  skat.  He  was  even  interested — in  the  most 
impersonal  manner — in  stock  exchange  prices  and  tried  to 
understand  what  was  hidden  behind  their  seemingly  grotesque 
and  unpredictable  movements.  Yet,  there  was  only  one  game 
which  he  really  cherished:  chess.  Only  on  rare  occasions  did  he 
have  the  time  and  opportunity  to  play  a  game  of  chess  or  to 


28  DIMITRY  GAWRONSKY 

analyze  the  game  of  an  outstanding  master;  but  when  he  did 
take  the  time  for  such  it  absorbed  him  to  such  a  degree  that  as 
long  as  he  busied  himself  with  chess  he  did  not  hear  or  see  any- 
thing that  was  going  on  around  him. 

This  great  versatility  proved  to  be  a  real  blessing  to  Cassirer 
when,  in  1930,  he  was  elected  rector  of  the  University  of  Ham- 
burg. Now  he  had  to  represent  the  University  at  the  various 
academic  functions  and  to  make  speeches  on  literally  every  type 
of  subject — one  day  he  spoke  on  the  development  of  modern 
traffic,  another  day  on  the  breeding  of  hogs,  then  again  on  the 
importance  of  athletic  sports.  And  the  most  amazing  part  of  it 
was  that  the  scope  of  his  understanding  and  the  wealth  of  his 
knowledge  were  so  vast  that  whatever  subject  he  touched  upon 
he  was  able  to  illuminate  its  different  aspects  and  to  show  its 
true  place  in  the  whole  of  cultural  life. 

Fourteen  most  prolific  years  of  his  life  Cassirer  spent  in 
Hamburg;  into  this  period  fell  also  two  large  research  works 
on  the  history  of  philosophy,  one  concerning  the  time  of  the 
Reformation,  the  other  dealing  with  the  development  of  Plato- 
nism  in  England.  This  latter  work,  published  in  1932,  was  the 
last  one  he  ever  published  in  Germany.  Meanwhile  heavy 
storm  clouds  darkened  the  skies  over  Germany,  the  Hitler 
movement  was  on  the  verge  of  its  first  decisive  victory,  ready 
to  take  over  the  Reich  government.  Already  years  before  Cas- 
sirer had  recognized  the  great  danger  of  this  movement;  he 
never  listened  to  the  speeches  of  Hitler  or  his  henchmen,  he 
never  read  their  books  and  pamphlets;  yet  he  seemed  to  know 
with  uncanny  foresight  what  Nazism  was  about  to  do  to 
Germany  and  to  the  rest  of  the  world.  When  their  notorious 
slogan:  "Right  is  what  serves  our  Fuehrer"  first  came  up,  and 
Cassirer  heard  of  it,  he  said:  "This  is  the  end  of  Germany." 
Cassirer,  therefore,  did  not  wait  to  be  dismissed  by  the  Nazis — 
he  tendered  his  resignation  immediately  after  Hitler  became 
Chancellor  of  the  German  Reich.  He  knew  that  there  would  be 
nothing  for  him  to  do  in  the  "new"  Germany,  and  he  decided 
to  emigrate.  Within  a  very  few  weeks  he  was  offered  three  pro- 
fessorships in  three  different  countries — one  in  Sweden  (Upsala 
University),  one  in  England  (Oxford  University),  and  one  in 


CASSIRER:  HIS  LIFE  AND  HIS  WORK  29 

the  U.S. A.  (New  School  for  Social  Research  in  New  York).  Cas- 
sirer  went  first  to  Oxford,  where  he  lectured  for  two  years 
(1933-35).  When  he  arrived  in  England,  he  was  only  able  to 
read  English,  but  he  could  not  speak  a  word  of  it.  Yet,  three 
months  later  he  was  already  lecturing  in  English.  Meanwhile 
he  had  received  another  offer,  this  time  from  the  University  of 
Goeteborg  (Sweden).  He  decided  to  accept  it,  but  only  on  one 
condition:  that  he  would  be  given  a  personal  chair,  in  order  that 
no  Swedish  professor  would  have  to  lose  his  job.  This  condition 
was  readily  accepted,  and,  in  September,  1935,  Cassirer  went  to 
Goeteborg. 

He  stayed  in  Sweden  for  almost  six  years  5  and  those  years 
again  were  very  fruitful  years  for  him.  In  1937  he  published 
his  book  on  Determinismus  und  Indeterminismus  in  der  mod- 
ernen  Physik.  Cassirer  himself  regarded  this  book  as  one  of  his 
most  important  achievements.  His  capacity  to  penetrate  into  all 
the  details  of  the  most  intricate  problems  of  modern  physics, 
as  shown  by  this  book,  is  truly  amazing.  Cassirer  had  been 
prompted  to  embark  upon  this  difficult  task  by  a  prolonged  and 
somewhat  confused  discussion  which  had  arisen  among  several 
leading  physicists  and  which  had  touched  upon  the  funda- 
mental problems  of  epistemology,  especially  upon  the  principle 
of  causality.  The  structure  of  the  atom,  the  peculiar  manner  in 
which  an  electric  particle  jumps,  as  it  were,  from  one  pre- 
destined trajectory  to  another,  the  difficulties  in  recognizing 
and  characterizing  individual  elements,  and  the  necessity  of 
applying  statistical  methods  to  the  solution  of  quantum-theo- 
retical problems  convinced  many  physicists  not  only  of  the  im- 
possibility of  going  on  exclusively  with  the  methods  of  the 
so-called  classical  mechanics  but  even  induced  some  of  them  to 
discard  the  principle  of  causality  altogether  and  to  introduce 
the  concept  of  purpose  into  the  interpretation  of  purely  material 
phenomena.  In  order  to  analyze  this  problem,  Cassirer  gave 
a  vast  and  detailed  picture  of  the  development  of  the  basic 
concepts  of  mechanics  and  physics  in  modern  times;  he  showed 
the  historical  continuity  of  thought,  which  led  to  the  conception 
of  the  quantum  theory,  and  convincingly  demonstrated  that  it 
was  not  the  principle  of  causality  which  was  to  blame  for  the 


30  DIMITRY  GAWRONSKY 

difficulties  with  which  this  theory  had  to  struggle,  but  the  fact 
that  the  system  of  symbols  used  in  it  was  too  narrow:  modern 
physics  "is  confronted  with  the  necessity  of  applying  different 
types  of  symbols,  of  schematic  'explanation/  to  one  and  the 
same  occurrence."6 

This  idea,  in  which  Cassirer  saw  a  consistent  method  of 
interpretation  of  the  fundamental  results  of  atomic  physics,  is 
one  of  the  basic  principles  of  his  philosophy  of  symbolic  forms. 
He  once  expressed  it  in  a  simple,  yet  truly  classical,  manner 
with  the  aid  of  the  following  concrete  example:  "We  begin  with 
a  certain  perceptual  experience:  with  a  drawing  which  we  see 
before  us.  We  may  turn  our  attention,  first  of  all,  to  the  purely 
sensory  'impression'  which  we  comprehend  as  a  simple  combina- 
tion of  lines."  Now  we  change  our  approach  to  this  geometrical 
figure,  we  apply  to  it  another  set  of  symbolic  forms,  and  "the 
spatial  image  becomes  an  aesthetic  one:  I  comprehend  in  it  the 
character  of  a  certain  ornament,  with  which  there  is  connected 
in  my  mind  a  certain  artistic  sense  and  significance. . . .  And  once 
again  the  form  of  my  contemplation  may  change,  insofar  as  that 
which  at  first  appeared  to  me  as  a  pure  ornament  now  reveals 
itself  as  the  bearer  of  a  mystic-religious  significance."7  Thus  the 
same  thing,  in  this  particular  case  a  geometrical  figure,  appears, 
when  treated  from  different  points  of  view,  as  the  bearer  of  a 
very  different  significance,  as  a  concept  with  different  meanings. 

No  sooner  had  Cassirer  finished  his  epistemological  interpre- 
tation of  the  quantum  theory  than  he  began  working  on  the 
fourth  volume  of  the  Erkenntnisfroblem.  In  this  volume, 
which  is  now  awaiting  publication,  Cassirer  is  giving  us  an 
integral  analysis  of  the  development  of  epistemological  and 
logical  problems  for  the  period  of  the  last  hundred  years — 
from  the  middle  of  the  nineteenth  century  to  practically  our 
own  day.  This  volume  also  contains  a  critical  analysis  of  all 
important  movements  in  the  realm  of  contemporary  philosophy. 

*  Determinismus ,  p.  265. 

f  From  "Das  Symbolproblem  und  seine  Stellung  im  System  der  Philosophic"  in 
the  Zeitschrtft  fur  Aesthetik  und  Allgemeine  KunstwitsenscJiaft,  Vol.  21,  pp.  194- 
195.  Both  of  the  above  quotations  come  from  this  article  j  the  translation  is  by 
the  present  writer. 


CASSIRER:  HIS  LIFE  AND  HIS  WORK  31 

There  were  two  more  books  Cassirer  published  during  the 
six  years  he  lived  in  Sweden,  both  of  them  very  typical  of  his 
almost  incredible  versatility  and  mental  adaptability.  For,  de- 
spite his  advanced  age,  he  mastered  the  Swedish  language 
perfectly  and  so  thoroughly  imbued  himself  with  Swedish  art, 
philosophy,  literature,  and  history  that  he  was  able  to  make  a 
very  important  contribution  to  the  development  of  Swedish 
philosophy  with  his  book  on  Hagerstrom.  Cassirer's  second 
book  is  devoted  to  Descartes  and  his  relation  to  the  Swedish 
queen  Christine}  here  he  discusses  one  of  the  most  difficult 
problems  of  Swedish  history:  why  did  Queen  Christine  resign 
her  throne?  Cassirer  attempts  his  solution  of  this  problem  by 
spreading  new  light  upon  Descartes,  on  his  influence  upon 
Christine,  and  by  giving  a  broad  picture  of  the  spiritual  life  of 
Europe  in  the  seventeenth  century. 

When  Cassirer  left  Germany  he  arranged  everything  for  the 
emigration  of  his  daughter  and  two  sons.  One  son  and  the 
daughter  joined  him  almost  immediately  in  England.  But  it 
took  all  of  five  years  before  his  second  son  could  join  him  in 
Goeteborg.  This  was  a  great  sorrow  of  the  emigration  years — 
he  was  never  able  to  live  together  with  all  his  children  and 
grandchildren,  whom  he  loved  so  dearly  j  there  was  always  a 
separation  from  one  or  the  other. 

In  the  summer  of  1941  Cassirer  accepted  the  invitation  of 
Yale  University  and  came  to  the  United  States  as  a  visiting 
professor.  His  original  intention  was  to  remain  here  two  years 
only  and  then  to  return  to  Sweden,  where  he  had,  in  the  mean- 
time, become  a  citizen.  However,  the  outbreak  of  World  War 
II  upset  his  plans.  At  the  end  of  two  years  he  was  unable  to 
return  to  Sweden  and  willingly  agreed,  therefore,  to  prolong 
his  contract  with  Yale  University  for  another  year.  During  this 
period  Cassirer  received  an  invitation  to  teach  at  Columbia 
University  and  in  the  summer  of  1944,  he  left  New  Haven  and 
went  to  New  York. 

His  arrival  in  America  opened  a  new  page  in  Cassirer's  life. 
Here  again  one  has  to  admire  his  great  adaptability.  This  time 
it  was  not  the  English  language,  which  he  knew  quite  well  by 
now,  nor  was  it  American  philosophy  the  development  of  which 


32  DIMITRY  GAWRONSKY 

he  had  studied  closely  for  decades.  In  Substance  and  Function 
one  already  finds  numerous  references  to  American  scholars 
and  philosophers.  But  the  methods  of  academic  teaching  in 
America  are  quite  different  from  those  of  Europe.  The  co- 
operation between  students  and  professors  is  much  closer  and 
more  informal  here  than  in  Europe.  Cassirer  not  only  adapted 
himself  willingly  and  easily  to  these  different  ways  of  teaching 
— he  sincerely  liked  and  greatly  appreciated  them.  He  often 
said  that  to  work  together  with  a  group  of  eager  students  who 
recognized  no  other  authority  than  truth  itself  and  kept  ques- 
tioning their  teachers  until  they  were  entirely  and  thoroughly 
satisfied  was  to  him  a  new  and  most  fruitful  experience. 

During  the  last  twelve  years  of  his  life  Cassirer  devoted  in- 
creasingly more  time  to  research  in  the  fields  of  the  social 
sciences.  He  felt  that  now  the  time  had  come  for  him  to  apply 
his  philosophy  of  symbolic  forms  to  this  realm  of  human  culture 
which  had  always  strongly  attracted  him,  but  which  he  had  never 
yet  discussed  systematically  in  his  books.  There  had  been  good 
reasons  for  this  delay.  The  social  sciences  cannot  easily  free 
themselves  from  the  influence  of  deeply  rooted  subjective 
tendencies  in  the  form  of  national  and  class  ideologies,  religious 
and  racial  prejudices,  economic  interests,  etc.  Cassirer  undertook 
to  explore  in  the  first  instance  those  aspects  of  human  culture 
where  the  attitude  of  (at  least  relative)  objectivity  could  more 
easily  prevail.  But  the  victorious  advance  of  the  totalitarian 
ideology  in  some  of  the  largest  countries  of  Europe  finally 
urged  him  on  to  take  a  stand  against  these  destructive  forces 
which — as  was  so  obvious  to  him — threatened  to  engulf  the 
whole  world.  In  1941  he  wrote,  therefore,  his  first  more 
comprehensive  study  in  the  field  of  the  social  sciences.  Even 
this,  however,  dealt,  in  the  main,  with  the  epistemological  side 
of  the  problem,  with  the  characteristics  of  the  particular 
methods  and  principles  upon  which  this  branch  of  human 
knowledge  is  based. 

His  Essay  on  Man,  published  in  1944,  and  written  by  him 
in  English,  contains  a  comprehensive  and  integral  exposition 
of  his  philosophy  of  symbolic  forms  and  their  application  to 
different  realms  of  human  culture.  In  this  book  Cassirer  not 


CASSIRER:  HIS  LIFE  AND  HIS  WORK  33 

only  summarizes  his  more  than  half-a-century  long  researches 
on  languages  and  science,  myth  and  religion,  but  he  also  shows, 
for  the  first  time,  at  some  length  the  decisive  role  the  symbolic 
forms  play  in  the  realms  of  art  and  historical  science.  At  the 
same  time  Cassirer  also  published  several  important  articles  on 
various  subjects.  In  one  of  them  he  gave  a  quite  original  analysis 
of  the  Bible  and  showed  why  the  Nazis  had  chosen  the  Jews 
as  their  ideological  enemy  Number  One — while  the  Nazis 
based  their  power  upon  historical  and  social  myths,  the  Jews 
have  always  shown  little  inclination  for  mythical  thought. 

Meanwhile  he  also  persistently  worked  on  what  he  now  con- 
sidered to  be  his  main  task,  namely,  an  undertaking  of  the 
driving  forces  of  human  history,  especially  those  forces  which 
made  possible  the  appalling  growth  of  totalitarianism  in  our 
time.  In  1944  he  finally  put  into  finished  form  a  voluminous 
manuscript  which  offers  his  solution  to  this  problem.  This  book 
— which  was  to  be  Cassirer's  last — is  entitled  The  Myth  of  the 
Statey  and  was  written  in  English.  Even  if  this  were  the  only 
book  ever  written  by  him,  it  would  still  secure  a  considerable 
name  for  him  as  a  scientist  and  philosopher  for  many  genera- 
tions to  come.  This  book  begins  with  an  exhaustive  analysis  of 
mythical  thought,  uncovering  the  intellectual,  emotional,  and 
volitional  roots  upon  which  the  myth  thrives  in  the  social  life  of 
man.  Then  it  gives  a  broad  and  general  delineation,  quite 
original  in  nature,  of  the  development  of  political  theory  from 
the  days  of  the  early  Greek  philosophy  to  the  very  threshold  of 
our  own  time,  and  uncovers,  step  by  step,  the  technique — not 
always  clever,  but  always  treacherous  and  persistent — of  the 
modern  political  myth  which  led  human  culture  to  the  brink  of 
complete  destruction.  The  result  of  this  penetrating  and  il- 
luminating investigation  into  the  myth  of  the  state  is  found, 
in  concentrated  form,  in  Cassirer's  following  words: 

"In  the  Babylonian  mythology  we  find  a  legend  that  de- 
scribed the  creation  of  the  world.  We  are  told  that  Marduk,  the 
highest  God,  before  he  could  begin  his  work,  had  to  fight  a 
dreadful  combat.  He  had  to  vanquish  and  subjugate  the  serpent 
Tiamat  and  the  other  dragons  of  darkness.  He  slew  Tiamat  and 
bound  the  dragons.  Out  of  the  limbs  of  the  monster  Tiamat  he 


34  DIMITRY  GAWRONSKY 

formed  the  world  and  gave  to  it  its  shape  and  its  order. . . .  The 
world  of  human  culture  may  be  described  in  the  words  of  this 
Babylonian  legend.  It  could  not  arise  before  the  darkness  of 
myth  was  fought  and  overcome.  But  the  mythical  monsters 
were  not  entirely  destroyed.  They  were  used  for  the  creation 
of  a  new  universe — and  they  still  survive  in  this  universe.  The 
powers  of  myth  were  thus  checked  and  subdued  by  superior 
forces.  As  long  as  these  forces — intellectual,  ethical,  artistic 
forces — are  in  full  strength,  myth  is  tamed  and  subdued.  But 
once  they  begin  to  lose  their  strength  chaos  arises  again.  Myth- 
ical thought  then  begins  to  rise  anew  and  to  pervade  the  whole 
of  man's  cultural  and  social  life."* 

Despite  his  advancing  age,  Cassirer  kept  on  working  continu- 
ously, persistently,  almost  as  much  as  he  had  worked  in  his 
youth,  and,  in  fact,  throughout  his  life.  How  often  did  he  sit, 
writing  at  his  desk,  till  late  into  the  night,  and  the  next  morning 
the  first  rays  of  the  rising  sun  found  him  again  busy  with  his 
work.  On  April  13  (1945),  the  day  of  his  death,  Cassirer  got 
up  very  early  and  spent  the  whole  morning  at  his  desk  writing; 
then  he  went  to  Columbia  University,  never  to  return  to  his 
home. 

Ernst  Cassirer  belongs  to  the  great  tradition  of  classical  phi- 
losophy. Goethe,  trying  to  define  the  essence  of  classicism,  once 
said:  "Classicism  is  sanity,  romanticism  is  illness,"  and  Novalis, 
one  of  the  greatest  among  the  romanticists,  unwittingly  pro- 
vided the  key  to  this  judgment  by  his  assertion  that  the  essence 
of  romanticism  consists  in  the  transformation  of  a  single  event 
or  individual  fact  into  an  absolute  and  general  principle  of  the 
whole.  To  Novalis  and  Schlegel  everything  was  the  emotion  of 
love,  even  mathematics  or  a  death  sentence;  to  Fichte  and 
Schopenhauer  everything  was  volition,  just  as  to  Hegel  every- 
thing was  Objective  Mind  or  to  Schelling  intellectual  intuition: 
in  each  case  one  principle,  one  function,  one  special  power 
dominates  and  determines  the  whole.  Classicism,  on  the  con- 
trary, always  recognizes  several  principles  as  quite  independent 

*  EDITOR'S  NOTE:  Apparently  Mr.  Gawronsky,  in  making  this  quotation,  had 
access  to  a  manuscript  version  of  the  book}  cf.  pp.  297-98  of  the  published  work, 
New  Haven  (1946). 


CASSIRER:  HIS  LIFE  AND  HIS  WORK  35 

of  each  other,  although  closely  connected  and  organically 
related  and  capable  only  in  their  organic  interrelatedness  of 
creating  and  forming  the  spiritual  world  of  man.  This  was  the 
very  core  of  Cassirer's  philosophical  conviction.  Throughout 
the  multifarious  realms  of  human  culture  he  demonstrated  the 
originality  and  independence  of  their  respective  symbolic  forms 
and  at  the  same  time  showed  the  closest  connection  to  exist 
among  all  these  forms,  thus  uniting  them  into  one  organic  and 
harmonic  whole.  So  great,  moreover,  was  the  scope  of  Cas- 
sirer's  mental  gifts,  so  inexhaustible  his  energy,  so  faithful  his 
memory,  so  deep,  swift,  and  versatile  his  power  of  comprehen- 
sion, his  mind  so  original  and  imaginative,  that  he  was  able 
to  undertake  a  unique  voyage  around  the  entire  spiritual  world 
of  man  and  to  discover,  on  his  journey,  innumerable  treasures 
of  human  thought. 

Cassirer  liked  to  tell  the  following  story:  once  he  met  the 
great  mathematician  Hilbert,  the  "Euclid  of  our  time,"  and 
asked  him  about  one  of  the  latter's  disciples.  Hilbert  answered: 
"He  is  all  right.  You  know,  for  a  mathematician  he  did  not  have 
enough  imagination.  But  he  has  become  a  poet  and  now  he  is 
doing  fine."  Cassirer  always  heartily  laughed,  when  he  told 
this  story,  and  he  had  good  reason  for  doing  so,  but  a  reason,  of 
which  he  was  never  aware: — he  had  enough  imagination  to  be- 
come a  true  scholar  and  philosopher.  His  mental  associations 
were  amazingly  rich,  colorful,  and  always  quite  exact.  He 
possessed  in  high  degree  the  gift  which  Goethe  called  "im- 
agination for  the  truth  of  reality"  or  "exact  sensory  imagina- 
tion." However  keen  and  daring  his  thinking  was — it  always 
remained  measured,  objective,  realistic. 

Truly  original  and  prolific  thinkers  are  usually  very  modest. 
Goethe  wrote  in  the  introduction  to  his  absolutely  new  and 
revolutionary  conception  of  botany  that,  in  this  work,  he  had  not 
said  anything  which  any  man  of  common  sense  could  not  easily 
discover  for  himself.  Kant  frankly  expressed  his  regret  that  he 
was  not  as  gifted  as  Mendelssohn.  And  we  all  know  how  ab- 
solutely modest  is  Einstein.  Thus,  modesty  was  also  one  of 
Cassirer's  most  outstanding  traits.  He  never  claimed  that  this  or 
that  idea  or  conception  had  first  been  discovered  or  formulated 


36  DIMITRY  GAWRONSKY 

by  him.  On  the  contrary,  he  was  always  in  the  habit  of  quoting 
numerous  authorities  both  of  the  past  and  in  the  present  who 
expressed  similar  ideas}  and  he  always  pointed  out  that  really 
important  ideas  usually  appear  as  the  result  of  the  close  co- 
operation of  many  human  minds.  Goethe's  assertion  that  only 
mankind  as  a  whole  is  able  to  find  the  truth  was  part  of  Cas- 
sirer's  very  nature  and  made  him  largely  oblivious  to  the 
uniqueness  of  many  of  his  own  deepest  insights  and  significant 
contributions. 

It  was  this  trait  of  Cassirer's  mental  attitude  which  made  him 
so  tolerant  in  all  spiritual  things  and  so  appreciative  of  all  earnest 
and  sincere  striving.  His  deep  conviction  that  truth  is  im- 
mensely beyond  the  insight  of  any  one  individual  mind  never 
permitted  him  to  discard  any  opinion  without  thorough  investi- 
gation. And,  just  because  he  found  so  much  truth  in  other 
thinkers,  he  never  attempted  to  found  a  philosophical  school  of 
his  own.  And  it  was  precisely  his  great  love  of  truth  which  made 
deliberate  falsehood  and  evil  all  the  more  loathsome  to  him. 
Throughout  his  life,  therefore,  he  did  not  stop  fighting  against 
falsehood  and  evil  in  his  own  quiet  but  determined  manner. 

Cassirer  was  a  deeply  religious  man.  He  cared  little  for 
differing  rites,  rituals,  confessions,  or  denominations}  these 
only  split  mankind  into  so  many  groups  and  often  turn  them 
against  each  other.  Yet  the  very  core  of  any  true  religion,  the 
cosmic  feeling,  a  love  as  wide  as  the  universe  and  as  intense  as 
the  light  of  the  sun,  was  always  vivid  in  his  heart.  It  was  this 
feeling  which  urged  Cassirer  incessantly  to  explore  all  material 
and  spiritual  things,  which  filled  his  heart  with  deep  sympathy 
for  everything  good'in  the  world,  which  strengthened  his  will 
to  fight  for  this  good.  And  it  was  this  feeling  which  was  the 
source  of  his  charming  humour — the  Infinite  All  was  always 
present  in  his  mind,  it  never  permitted  him  to  take  either  him- 
self or  his  surroundings  too  seriously,  and  he  was,  therefore, 
able  to  joke  for  hours  in  the  most  spirited  and  sympathetic 
manner. 

To  the  very  end  of  his  life  Cassirer  retained  his  youthful 
spirit,  his  vivid  interest  in  all  the  aspects  of  life  around  him  and 
his  readiness  to  be  helpful  to  other  people.  It  is  difficult  to 


CASSIRER:  HIS  LIFE  AND  HIS  WORK  37 

imagine  a  kinder  and  more  sympathetic  person,  a  man  with  such 
an  absolute  devotion  to  the  good.  Symbolic  of  his  whole  nature, 
therefore,  was  the  way  of  his  passing:  on  the  street  he  was  met 
by  one  of  his  students,  who  addressed  a  question  to  him.  Cas- 
sirer  turned  to  answer,  smiled  kindly  at  the  young  man,  and 
suddenly  fell  dead  into  his  arms. 

DIMITRY  GAWRONSKY 
NEW  YORK  CITY 


B 

FOUR  ADDRESSES 

Delivered  at  Memorial  Services,  held  under  the  Auspices 

of  the 
Department  of  Philosophy 

of 

Columbia  University 

Brander  Matthews  Theater,  Columbia  University 
June  i,  1945 


IN  MEMORIAM:  ERNST  CASSIRER 

This  is  the  locust  season  of  our  days 

When  the  ripe  meadows  of  the  mind  are  bare, 

This  is  the  month  of  the  never-born  maize 

Upon  whose  golden  meats  we  shall  not  fare. 

This  is  the  week  of  the  stunted  stalk 

And  fruit  that  is  dust  on  the  bones  of  rock, 

This  is  the  day  of  the  hungry  hawk 

And  the  songbirds  dead  by  the  fallen  flock. 

This  is  the  noon  of  our  derelict  plain, 

The  sun-parched  hour  of  most  desolate  pain. 

Yet  there  is  a  valley  where  sweet  grain  grows 
In  strong-rooted  stands,  in  tall  splendid  rows. 
Here  toiled  in  the  meadows  a  man  wise  and  serene, 
And  the  meadows  bore  fruit  and  the  meadows  are  green. 

EDWARD  MURRAY  CASE 


ERNST  CASSIRER 

WITH  the  passing  of  Ernst  Cassirer  one  of  the  great 
philosophical  interpreters  of  human  civilization  has  been 
taken  from  us.  The  last  true  scion  of  the  classic  tradition  of 
German  idealism  has  been  laid  to  rest.  While  we  are  wondering 
whether  the  Germans  will  ever  be  able  to  produce  a  new  moral 
and  intellectual  order  by  returning  to  the  liberal  humanism  of 
their  own  past,  which  they  renounced  so  violently  in  recent 
decades,  this  meeting  is  a  demonstration  of  our  confident  faith 
in  these  ideas  as  a  precious  part  of  our  own  culture. 

Soon  after  the  classic  school  of  German  philosophy  had  been 
deprived  of  its  great  creative  leaders  with  the  deaths  of  Hegel 
and  Schelling,  German  philosophy  lost  its  dominant  position  to 
the  new  natural  and  historical  sciences.  Simultaneously  Ger- 
man philosophy  began  to  retreat  from  an  active  participation  in 
the  discussion  of  the  fundamental  political  issues  of  the  age.  The 
programs  of  the  political  parties  were  little  affected  by  the 
humane  philosophy  of  the  early  part  of  the  century. 

In  the  last  third  of  the  century,  however,  a  renascence  of 
philosophical  thought  took  place,  which  is  usually  called  the 
rise  of  neo-Kantianism.  But  though  a  great  deal  of  the  new 
philosophical  discussion  centered  around  a  fresh  study  and 
appreciation  of  Kant,  the  new  philosophical  movement  did  not 
aim  at  the  enthronement  of  the  Konigsberg  philosopher  as  the 
patron  saint  of  a  new  scholasticism  but  had  much  broader  and 
deeper  objectives.  It  sprang  from  the  moral  and  intellectual 
dissatisfaction  with  the  then  fashionable  ideas  which  seemed 
incapable  of  overcoming  the  growing  materialism  and  natural- 
ism. Many  went  even  so  far  as  to  consider  these  philosophies 
the  logical  outcome  of  modern  scientific  research.  In  contrast, 

.41 


42  HAJO  HOLBORN 

the  new  generation  of  German  philosophers  asserted  that  the 
progress  of  the  individual  natural  and  historical  sciences 
stemmed  very  largely  from  the  discoveries  of  classic  philosophy 
and  that  research  would  lose  its  direction  and  meaning  without 
a  critical  awareness  of  its  basic  methods.  However,  philosophy 
was  not  only  to  act  as  a  guide  to  the  various  academic  depart- 
ments but  was  to  gain  fresh  vigor  from  them. 

Ernst  Cassirer  began  his  studies  when  the  new  philosophical 
movement  had  already  gained  influence  in  German  universities. 
Lotze  was  probably  the  chief  bridge-builder  between  the  classic 
idealism  and  the  neo-idealism  which  then  found  its  leaders 
in  Dilthey  and  in  the  neo-Kantian  schools  of  Marburg  and 
the  South- West,  represented  by  Cohen  and  Natorp  and  by 
Windelband  and  Rickert.  But  it  should  not  be  forgotten  that 
the  sciences  and  arts  took  an  active  part  in  producing  the  new 
philosophy.  German  mathematics  and  physics  from  Helmholtz 
to  Planck  and  Einstein  were  deeply  conscious  of  their  philo- 
sophical roots  and  not  all  the  historians  got  lost  in  contemporary 
national  politics.  Harnack  and  his  school  of  ecclesiastical  his- 
tory, the  school  of  the  history  of  religion  from  which  Troeltsch 
made  his  way  into  philosophy,  and  Meinecke's  work  in  the 
history  of  ideas  are  only  a  few  examples  of  the  manner  in 
which  historians  helped  to  buttress  the  new  philosophical  move- 
ment. 

Ernst  Cassirer  took  his  place  among  the  best  scholars  of  this 
group,  and  while  he  remained  always  grateful  for  being  the 
member  of  a  group  of  common  spirit  and  purpose,  he  soon 
began  to  chart  a  course  of  his  own  in  accordance  with  his 
personal  gifts.  In  his  early  studies  Cassirer  concentrated  on 
achieving  a  fuller  understanding  of  the  much-praised  and  little- 
known  Leibniz,  the  real  founder  of  the  German  philosophical 
tradition.  Leibniz  was  the  father  of  the  theory  of  knowledge 
which,  in  contrast  to  almost  the  whole  philosophy  of  the  i8th 
century,  Kant  included,  saw  in  the  study  of  nature  and  of  history 
two  manifestations  of  the  one  human  quest  for  knowledge.  He 
did  not  consider  the  humanities  a  lower,  or  less  mature,  form  of 
academic  achievement.  Both  were  branches  of  Wissenschaft, 
science,  i.e.,  both  were  producing  scientific  truth  though  by  dif- 


ERNST  CASSIRER  43 

ferent  methods.  Throughout  his  life  Cassirer  remained  a  stu- 
dent of  Leibniz  by  keeping  abreast  both  of  the  progress  of 
the  natural  sciences  and  of  the  liberal  arts. 

However,  Cassirer  believed  that  his  basic  approach  to  phi- 
losophy was  Kantian  in  origin,  Kant  had  maintained  that  the 
way  to  a  transcendental  order  could  be  gained  only  through 
an  analysis  of  the  forms  and  methods  of  human  thought,  and 
he  had  demonstrated  the  power  of  his  new  critical  idealism  in 
the  philosophical  study  of  the  natural  sciences,  ethics,  and 
finally  aesthetics.  The  neo-Kantians  and  particularly  Cassirer 
went  farther.  Their  epistemology  included  the  methodology 
of  history  and  moreover  of  all  forms  of  creative  civilization, 
finally  encompassing  even  the  expressions  of  pre-scientific  hu- 
man thought  and  imagination  as  revealed  in  language  and 
mythology. 

This  is  the  key  to  the  truly  universal  scope  of  Cassirer's 
studies.  In  addition  to  Leibniz  and  Kant,  it  was  the  spirit  of 
Goethe  which  gave  life  to  Cassirer's  thought, 

Wer  nicht  von  3000  Jahren 
Sich  weiss  Rechenschaft  zu  geben 
Bleibt  im  Grunde  unerfahren 
Muss  von  Tag  zu  Tage  leben.1 

In  Cassirer's  personality  and  work  Goethe's  program  of  edu- 
cation became  a  living  reality  again.  The  totality  of  Western 
civilization  was  to  be  reconstructed  and  made  a  part  of  the 
consciousness  of  the  modern  individual  and  of  present-day 
civilization.  The  study  of  the  processes  and  creations  of  civiliza- 
tion would  lift  the  individual  to  a  position  from  which  he  could 
see  farther  than  "from  day  to  day"  and  could  begin  to  grasp 
the  ideal  forms  and  categories  of  the  human  mind. 

In  this  version  of  idealistic  philosophy  philosophical  studies 
became  in  large  sections  identical  with  historical  research.  In 
general,  Cassirer  confined  his  historical  interest  to  the  history 
of  human  thinking  and  avoided  the  discussion  of  the  social  and 
political  forces.  However,  he  was  not  satisfied  with  the  old- 

lTr.:  He  who  cannot  account  for  3000  years  is  basically  inexperienced  and 
therefore  can  only  exist  from  day  to  day. 


44  HAJO  HOLBORN 

fashioned  type  of  history  of  philosophy  which  dealt  chiefly 
with  the  doctrines  of  the  leading  philosophers,  and  linked  them 
together  by  a  loose  chain  of  abstract  speculation.  Thus,  between 
a  social  and  political  interpretation  of  historical  civilization  on 
one  side  and  a  history  of  mere  ideas  on  the  other  his  history  of 
human  thought  held  its  own  place.  His  work  ranged  from  the 
tedious  editing  of  small  texts  and  discoveries  to  his  monu- 
mental edition  of  Kant.  Beyond  the  editing  it  proceeded  to  the 
analytical  and  interpretative  monographs  and  articles  covering 
ancient  science  and  the  philosophy  of  practically  all  ages  of 
Western  civilization.  Even  those  historians  who  care  little  about 
philosophy  cannot  by-pass  the  new  historical  vistas  which  he 
opened  particularly  on  the  Renaissance  and  the  European 
Enlightenment. 

But  as  closely  as  his  historical  and  philosophical  studies  were 
intertwined,  the  unity  of  his  many  interests  is  to  be  found  in 
the  philosophical  conviction  that  man  can  participate  in  a 
higher  order  of  life  only  through  the  realization  of  the  peren- 
nial forms  of  human  thought.  He  drew  these  philosophical  con- 
clusions most  clearly  in  his  great  Erkenntnistheorie  and  in  his 
Philosofhie  der  symbolischen  Formen.  Cassirer's  writings  mir- 
ror far  more  than  do  those  of  most  of  his  German  colleagues 
his  unusual  gift  as  a  teacher.  He  had  a  unique  facility  for  clear 
and  logical  exposition,  and  all  the  products  of  his  pen  display 
his  extraordinary  sense  of  balance  and  aesthetic  form.  His  ca- 
pacity to  project  himself  into  the  psychological  and  mental 
environment  of  a  past  age  or  of  an  individual  thinker  of  the 
past  did  not  make  him  forget  the  individual  needs  of  a  present- 
day  audience  or  student.  His  understanding  of  human  nature 
made  him  take  his  listeners  or  pupils  as  seriously  as  the 
philosophical  and  historical  subjects  he  tried  to  expound  to 
them.  These  qualities  explain  his  success  as  a  teacher  in  Ger- 
many, in  Sweden,  and  in  America. 

Cassirer  gave  up  his  professorship  in  Hamburg  when  the 
Hitlerites  came  to  power  in  Germany.  This  was  natural,  con- 
sidering that  he  was  one  of  the  chief  exponents  of  that  liberal 
tradition  of  German  thought  which  the  Nazis  tried  to  destroy 
by  all  means.  But,  being  at  the  same  time  a  Jew,  he  had  to 


ERNST  CASSIRER  45 

take  refuge  in  foreign  countries.  No  German  was  as  deeply 
steeped  in  the  German  cultural  tradition  and  very  few  had 
contributed  so  much  to  its  growth  within  his  generation  as 
Ernst  Cassirer.  Many  other  German  scholars  who  found  them- 
selves in  a  similar  situation  preferred  to  cut  all  their  ties  with 
their  Jewish  origin.  Prior  to  Hitler  not  very  many  Germans 
would  have  criticized  anyone  for  doing  just  that;  on  the  con- 
trary, many  would  have  applauded  such  an  attitude.  Actually, 
Cassirer's  unwillingness  to  abandon  his  Jewish  faith  proved  a 
handicap  in  his  earlier  academic  career,  but  he  was  too  honest 
to  dissimulate  his  heritage.  He  was  also  conscious  that  a  great 
deal  of  his  moral  integrity  and  intellectual  strength  had  come 
to  him  through  his  Jewish  culture.  Nor  did  this  make  him  feel 
suspicious  or  bitter.  There  was  little  of  Heinrich  Heine  in  him, 
but  much  more  of  Felix  Mendelssohn,  to  whom  he  can  be 
compared  in  many  respects.  As  Mendelssohn  helped  to  dis- 
cover for  the  Germans  some  of  the  greatest  treasures  of  their 
cultural  past,  and  at  the  same  time  contributed  by  his  own 
creative  work  to  the  continuation  of  their  classic  tradition,  so 
did  Cassirer  in  the  philosophic  field. 

Yet  Cassirer's  life  and  work  do  not  belong  to  Germany 
alone.  The  philosophical  revival  of  the  last  third  of  the  nine- 
teenth century  was  not  merely  a  German  event.  It  had  its 
parallels  and  found  its  students  in  many  lands,  e.g.,  in  the 
Italy  of  Benedetto  Croce  and  to  a  lesser,  though  considerable, 
degree  in  modern  French  philosophy  or  in  the  Spain  of  Ortega 
y  Gassett,  from  where  it  recently  has  spread  far  over  Latin 
America.  Among  his  German  contemporaries,  Cassirer  was 
probably  the  one  most  conscious  of  the  international  significance 
of  philosophy.  Certainly  he  was  the  one  German  philosopher 
of  distinction  who  had  least  indulged  in  construing  the  Kantian 
and  post-Kantian  German  philosophy  as  a  complete  refutation 
of  the  philosophy  of  Western  European  Enlightenment.  While 
German  philosophers  and  historians  were  prone  to  describe 
the  Kantian  philosophy  as  a  separation  of  the  superior  German 
from  Western-European  civilization,  Cassirer  was  always  mind- 
ful of  the  fact  that  Kant  had  his  roots  in  the  Western  European 
Enlightenment,  or  for  that  matter,  that  it  was  impossible  to 


4S  HAJO  HOLBORN 

think  of  Goethe  without  Shaftesbury  and  Spinoza.  These  were 
some  of  the  reasons  which  made  him  approach  Western- 
European  thought  with  the  same  warmth  of  understanding 
which  he  showed  in  his  German  studies.  He  deserved  the  re- 
spect and  affection  of  the  philosophers  of  other  countries  which 
they  showed  him  so  often.  Never  did  scholars  of  so  many  lands 
cooperate  in  expressing  their  admiration  for  a  colleague  of  theirs 
as  happened  in  the  symposium  on  History  and  Philosophy, 
which  the  Oxford  Press  presented  to  him  at  his  6oth  birthday. 

His  knowledge  of  other  civilizations,  his  truly  cosmopolitan 
outlook,  and  the  friendships  which  he  acquired  among  his 
American  colleagues  and  students,  made  the  years  of  his  exile 
not  only  bearable,  but  fruitful.  Others  of  his  age  never  again 
came  into  their  own  after  being  separated  from  the  world  in 
which  they  had  spent  the  major  part  of  their  life.  No  doubt 
the  events  cast  a  tragic  shadow  over  the  last  years  of  his  career, 
but  they  did  not  change  his  fundamental  beliefs,  nor  even  his 
joy  in  research  and  teaching.  The  core  of  his  personality  was 
unaffected.  He  was  unassuming  and  undemanding.  His  greatest 
satisfaction  lay  in  giving  others  knowledge  and  wisdom. 

HAJO  HOLBORN 

YALE  UNIVERSITY 


3 
ERNST  CASSIRER 

IT  MUST  have  been  in  1920  that  I  first  met  Ernst  Cassirer. 
Although  the  war  had  been  lost  by  Germany,  the  air  was 
full  of  hope.  The  collapse  of  material  power  had  produced  a 
strong  and  favourable  reaction  in  the  intellectual  field,  and 
one  of  the  symptoms  of  this  was  the  foundation,  in  Hamburg — 
now  more  anti-militaristic  than  ever — of  a  new  university.  High 
hopes  were  entertained  for  the  new  institution,  which  was  to 
be  of  good  standing  and  to  form  an  intellectual  centre  for  the 
Hansa  city.  Of  particular  importance  was  the  chair  of  philoso- 
phy, for  which  Cassirer  had  been  chosen.  The  new  university 
elected  a  man  whose  international  reputation  at  that  time  was 
far  greater  than  the  recognition  which  the  older  seats  of  learn- 
ing had  bestowed  on  him.  He  lent  a  peculiar  dignity  to  the 
young  arts  faculty,  and  an  ever-growing  number  of  students 
came  to  his  courses,  eager  for  the  truth  and  for  learning,  after 
the  many  deceptions  of  the  war  years. 

On  a  day  memorable  in  the  annals  of  the  Warburg  Institute, 
Cassirer  came  to  see  the  library  collected  by  Professor  Warburg 
over  a  period  of  about  thirty  years.  Warburg's  nerves  had 
broken  down  in  1920  under  the  strain  of  the  post-war  events, 
and  he  had  been  sent  to  Switzerland  for  recovery.  Being  in 
charge  of  the  library,  I  showed  Cassirer  around.  He  was  a 
gracious  visitor,  who  listened  attentively  as  I  explained  to  him 
Warburg's  intentions  in  placing  books  on  philosophy  next  to 
books  on  astrology,  magic,  and  folklore,  and  in  linking  the  sec- 
tions on  art  with  those  on  literature,  religion,  and  philosophy. 
The  study  of  philosophy  was  for  Warburg  inseparable  from 
that  of  the  so-called  primitive  mind:  neither  could  be  isolated 
from  the  study  of  imagery  in  religion,  literature,  and  art.  These 

47 


48  F.  SAXL 

ideas  had  found  expression  in  the  unorthodox  arrangement  of 
the  books  on  the  shelves. 

Cassirer  understood  at  once.  Yet,  when  he  was  ready  to 
leave,  he  said,  in  the  kind  and  clear  manner  so  typical  of  him: 
"This  library  is  dangerous.  I  shall  either  have  to  avoid  it  alto- 
gether or  imprison  myself  here  for  years.  The  philosophical 
problems  involved  are  close  to  my  own,  but  the  concrete  his- 
torical material  which  Warburg  has  collected  is  overwhelming." 
Thus  he  left  me  bewildered.  In  one  hour  this  man  had  under- 
stood more  of  the  essential  ideas  embodied  in  that  library  than 
anybody  I  had  met  before.  Why,  then,  did  he  seem  to  hesitate? 
I  expected  that,  if  anyone,  he  would  help  me  with  the  difficult 
task  of  continuing  the  library  without  its  founder.  But  it  seems 
that  the  workings  of  his  mind  would  not  allow  him — or,  at 
least,  not  yet  allow  him — to  be  drawn  into  the  dangerous  chan- 
nels of  Warburg's  creation.  Only  much  later  did  I  understand 
that  the  reason  was  not  narrowness,  but  self-restraint.  Those 
who  knew  Cassirer  will  realize  that  the  decision  to  keep  aloof 
from  certain  problems  at  a  certain  moment  was  dictated  by 
the  austere  logic  of  his  own  method. 

But,  after  an  interval  of  waiting,  the  situation  changed 
radically;  and,  from  that  moment  on,  for  ten  years,  I  never 
appealed  in  vain  to  Cassirer  for  collaboration.  He  had  begun 
writing  the  first  volume  of  his  Philoso^hie  der  symbollschen 
Formen  and,  in  developing  his  systematic  ideas,  he  studied  the 
voluminous  concrete  material  prepared  by  ethnologists  and 
historians.  Warburg  had  collected  the  very  material  which 
Cassirer  needed.  More  than  that:  looking  back  now  it  seems 
miraculous  that  Warburg  had  collected  it  for  thirty  years  with 
a  view  to  the  very  problems  which  Cassirer  was  then  beginning 
to  investigate.  In  the  1890*8  (inspired  by  Friedrich  Theodor 
Vischer),  Warburg  had  set  out  to  study  symbolic  expression 
in  art.  His  experience  in  studying  the  rites  and  arts  of  the 
New  Mexico  Zunis  had  taught  him  that  the  study  of  symbolic 
expression  in  art  could  not  be  isolated  from  that  of  religion, 
magic,  language,  and  science.  (In  a  number  of  still  unpublished 
writings,  Warburg  had,  on  the  one  hand,  tried  to  formulate 
a  practical  theory  of  the  symbol  in  the  history  of  civilization; 


ERNST  CASSIRER  49 

while,  on  the  other  hand,  he  had  built  up  a  library  containing  the 
concrete  materials  for  these  studies,  beginning  with  books  and 
articles  on  the  general  problem  of  symbolic  expression  and 
arranging  all  the  historical  sections  with  a  view  to  this  problem.) 
At  the  time  of  Cassirer's  first  visit,  Die  Philosofhie  der  sym- 
bolischen  Formen  was  just  taking  shape  in  Cassirer  Js  mind.  It 
came  as  a  shock  to  him,  therefore,  to  see  that  a  man  whom  he 
hardly  knew  had  covered  the  same  ground,  not  in  writings,  but 
in  a  complicated  library  system,  which  an  attentive  and  specula- 
tive visitor  could  spontaneously  grasp.  That  was  the  reason  why, 
at  our  first  meeting,  Cassirer  immediately  felt  that  the  alterna- 
tive confronting  him  was  either  to  ignore  the  Institute  or  else 
to  submit  to  its  spell. 

When  the  time  was  ripe  for  him,  Cassirer  became  our  most 
assiduous  reader.  And  the  first  book  ever  published  by  the  Insti- 
tute was  from  Cassirer's  pen.  It  dealt  with  the  problem  on  which 
Warburg  had  started,  namely  to  establish  the  categories  of 
primitive  thought  in  the  primitive  cultures  proper,  as  well  as  in 
modern  primitivism,  as  for  example  in  astrology. 

Warburg  was  a  man  of  a  very  imaginative  and  emotional 
type,  in  whom  historical  imagination,  nourished  by  concrete 
historical  experience,  always  struggled  against  an  ardent  de- 
sire for  philosophical  simplification.  Yet  he  had  created  a  tool 
which  a  master,  whose  greatest  gifts  were  in  the  line  of  systema- 
tization,  could  use,  and  who,  just  at  this  moment,  was  eager 
to  find  the  concrete  material  on  which  to  build  his  system. 
Cassirer  found  it  laid  out  in  the  library  of  a  man  who  was  still 
alive,  but  who  was  living  in  darkness  behind  doors  which 
seemed  never  again  to  open  for  him. 

Years  went  by.  The  first  volume  of  Cassirer's  magnum  opts 
appeared,  while  we  published  some  corollaries  to  it  and  some 
lectures.  One  day  Cassirer  went  to  Switzerland  to  pay  a  visit 
to  Warburg.  It  was  a  meeting  of  which  both  Cassirer  and 
Warburg  often  spoke  in  later  years.  The  patient  had  prepared 
himself  for  this  day  for  weeks  and  months  previously.  Cassirer 
came,  full  of  sympathy  and  with  the  apprehension  and  awe  that 
mental  illness  inspires.  In  the  years  of  anguish  and  isolation 
Warburg's  thought,  which  had  never  been  arrested  by  the  ill- 


50  F.  SAXL 

ness,  had  centred  around  Kepler.  Warburg  had  come  to  the 
conclusion,  although  separated  from  all  books,  that  modern 
thought  was  born  when  Kepler  broke  the  traditional  supremacy 
of  the  circle,  as  the  ideal  form  in  cosmological  thought,  and 
replaced  it  by  the  ellipse.  Cassirer,  who  never  took  notes  but 
possessed  a  memory  of  almost  unlimited  capacity,  at  once  came 
to  Warburg's  aid,  giving  chapter  and  verse  for  this  idea  by 
quoting  from  Kepler.  It  was,  probably,  Warburg's  first  ray 
of  light  in  those  dark  years.  He  learnt  through  Cassirer  that 
he  had  not  wandered  in  a  pathless  wilderness,  but  that  his 
scientific  thought  at  least  was  sane.  Cassirer's  memory  was 
always  miraculous}  but  it  had  never  worked  as  miraculous  a 
cure  as  it  did  on  that  day. 

In  later  years,  when  Warburg  was  back  in  Hamburg,  a  warm 
friendship  sprang  up  between  the  two  men.  Warburg  admired 
the  clarity  of  thought  and  form  in  the  philosopher;  and  Cassirer 
was  impressed  by  the  man  who  grasped  life  and  history  with 
such  passion  and  who  had  gone  through  mental  experiences 
which  gave  every  utterance  of  his  about  art  or  religion,  about 
philosophy  and  literature,  a  deep  and  wise  ring. 

The  character  of  Cassirer's  scholarship,  however,  was  such 
that,  though  enriched  and  extended,  its  intrinsic  direction  was 
never  changed  by  his  co-operation  with  Warburg.  A  reader 
familiar  with  Cassirer's  work,  but  unfamiliar  with  these  per- 
sonal details,  would  never  divine  the  intimate  relationship 
which  existed  between  the  two  men,  so  much  did  all  the  writings 
of  those  years  appear  as  the  necessary  continuation  of  Cassirer's 
earlier  work.  When  Warburg  died  in  1929,  it  was  Cassirer 
who  spoke  at  his  grave:  a  commemoration  of  the  strange  and 
fruitful  meeting  of  two  thinkers  of  almost  diametrically  op- 
posed character  and  tendency.  Yet  they  had  one  great  goal  in 
common:  to  understand  the  nature  and  history  of  the  symbolic 
expression  of  the  human  mind. 

If  the  Warburg  Institute  has  grown  into  a  stable  institution, 
we  owe  much  of  its  success  to  Cassirer's  advice  and  help.  If 
Warburg  were  alive,  he  would  testify  how  greatly  he  admired 
Cassirer.  But  above  all,  he  would  express  his  deep  gratitude  to 
the  man  who,  better  than  any  psychiatrist,  had  helped  him  to 


ERNST  CASSIRER  51 

find  the  way  back  into  the  world.  Even  those  of  you  who  knew 
Cassirer  could  hardly  imagine  the  immense  impression  that  his 
clear  and  calm  personality  made  on  a  mind  cut  off  from  the 
world  and  striving  hard  to  reach  the  port  of  health  by  exerting 
his  powers  of  reason.  Cassirer,  Olympian  and  aloof,  was  yet 
the  most  humane  and  learned  doctor  of  the  soul.  Higher  praise 
could  hardly  be  given  to  any  man. 

F.  SAXL 

THE  WARBURG  INSTITUTE 

UNIVERSITY  OF  LONDON 

LONDON,  ENGLAND 


4 
A  STUDENT'S  NACHRUF 

FRIENDS  OF  ERNST  CASSIRER: 

I  SHOULD  like  you  to  know  something  of  what  the  stu- 
dents in  the  Department  of  Philosophy  at  Columbia  felt  for 
Ernst  Cassirer.  By  recounting  to  you  the  substance  of  my  own 
experience  and  my  own  feelings  I  shall  be  summing  up  the 
experience  and  the  feelings  of  all  of  us  here  who  were  the 
students  of  Ernst  Cassirer.  For,  my  relations  with  Ernst  Cas- 
sirer were  surely  typical  and  most  representative. 

As  a  mere  apprentice  to  that  trade  in  which  Ernst  Cassirer 
was  a  revered  guild-master,  I  am  aware  that  language  is  a 
fragile  bridge  to  understanding,  and  one  that  is  too  easily  col- 
lapsible. Thus,  if  someone  were  to  ask  me:  "How  well  did 
you  know  Ernst  Cassirer?,"  I  should  feel  the  need  of  beginning 
my  answer  by  making  a  certain  verbal  distinction.  In  terms 
reminiscent  of  one  of  the  great  problems  with  which  Professor 
Cassirer  came  boldly  to  grips,  I  should  have  to  reply:  "Just 
what  do  you  mean  by  the  word  'know'?" 

If  by  your  question  you  mean  to  inquire  whether  I  enjoyed 
a  personal  friendship  with  my  teacher,  whether  our  acquaint- 
ance was  an  intimate  one,  then  regretfully  I  should  have  to 
answer  that  in  this  sense  I  did  not  "know"  Ernst  Cassirer.  The 
time  was  too  short,  the  days  were  too  few  for  this. 

But  if  your  meaning  is:  "Did  I  have  an  understanding  of 
the  kind  of  man  that  Ernst  Cassirer  was?,"  then  I  should 
answer,  and  every  one  of  his  students  would  answer  with  me: 
"I  did,  and  I  do." 

Ernst  Cassirer  was  an  exile,  a  Jew,  who  wrote:  "In  our  life, 
in  the  life  of  a  modern  Jew,  there  is  no  room  left  for  any  joy 
or  complacency.  All  this  has  gone  forever.  No  Jew  whatsoever 

52 


A  STUDENT'S  NACHRUF  53 

can  and  will  ever  overcome  the  terrible  ordeal  of  these  last 
years."  And  yet  Ernst  Cassirer  was  a  man  whose  presence  be- 
spoke serenity  as  surely  as  do  the  green  leaves  bespeak  the 
springtime.  This  sereneness  of  countenance  and  mind  was  noted 
by  all.  But  it  was  not  the  serenity  which  is  unconscious  of  the 
storm  j  it  was,  rather,  a  kind  of  winged  serenity  which  surveyed, 
which  comprehended,  and  yet  which  nobly  overrode  the  storm. 
And  so,  having  seen  this,  we  knew  that  Ernst  Cassirer  was  a 
good  man.  For  only  the  good  are  serene. 

We  were  impressed  by  the  depth  and  variety  of  his  knowl- 
edge. The  depth  we  were  prepared  for,  but  the  variety  amazed 
us.  I  recall  that,  after  I  had  seen  An  Essay  On  Man,  I  asked  two 
members  of  the  department  whether  Professor  Cassirer  were 
really  at  home  in  all  the  varied  fields  surveyed  by  this  book. 
They  assured  me  that,  in  truth,  he  was.  And  I  am  ashamed  to 
confess  that  I  was  dismayed  at  this  confirmation}  for  it  seemed 
to  me  that  I,  a  beginner  in  philosophy,  could  never  hope  my- 
self to  be  the  master  of  such  a  manifold  of  learning.  But  this 
dismay  was  supplanted  soon  by  a  spirit  of  emulation;  and  the 
kind  of  scholarship  which  was  Ernst  Cassirer's  became  for  me 
something  to  strive  for,  a  goal  which  I  might  not  attain,  but  a 
goal  which  was  truly  clear,  for  I  had  seen  it  defined  in  the 
being  of  a  living  man. 

In  the  lecture  hall  we  were  particularly  impressed  by  the 
profound  and  appropriate  allusions  made  to  every  field  of 
knowledge.  In  the  seminar  room  we  learned  to  wait  for  the 
brilliant  interjection,  the  almost  casual  sentence  which  put  a 
philosopher  or  a  problem  in  a  new  and  more  illuminating  light. 
In  short,  we  came  to  realize,  all  of  us,  in  time,  that  as  a  man 
of  learning  and  wisdom,  as  a  scholar,  Ernst  Cassirer  was 
unique. 

He  was  an  ardent  man.  I  understood  this  on  the  day  of  the 
last  class  he  taught.  I  was  on  my  way  to  class  that  day,  when 
in  the  distance  I  was  glad  to  see  Professor  Cassirer  walking  in 
the  same  direction.  I  quickened  my  pace  in  order  to  catch  up 
with  him.  When  I  came  closer  I  saw  that,  as  he  walked,  he 
was  reading  a  book,  which  absorption  accounted  for  the  slow- 
ness of  his  step.  As  I  watched  him,  he  paused  to  concentrate  on 


54  EDWARD  MURRAY  CASE 

what  he  was  reading,  and,  in  that  moment,  I  perceived  that 
Ernst  Cassirer,  at  the  age  of  seventy,  was  more  ardently  in- 
terested in  the  contents  of  that  book  than  most  young  men 
have  ever  been  interested  in  the  contents  of  any  book.  And  so 
I  did  not  disturb  Professor  Cassirer,  and  I  am  glad  now  that  I 
did  not,  for  the  discreet  man  does  not  intrude  upon  a  lover. 

Thus,  being  serene  and  good,  being  learned  and  wise  and 
ardent,  being  all  these  things,  Ernst  Cassirer  was  a  great  man. 

And  so  we,  the  students  of  philosophy  at  Columbia  esteem 
it  to  have  been  a  great  privilege  and  a  great  honor  in  our  lives 
that,  in  this  great  university  of  the  New  World,  we  were  the  last 
students  of  the  lineal  descendant  of  Immanuel  Kant,  that  we 
were  the  last  students  of  the  last  flowering  of  German  philoso- 
phy. And  I  do  not  speak  from  paper  or  from  notes  or  in 
words  formulated  coldly  and  with  deliberation,  but  I  speak 
from  the  heart  when  I  say:  We  loved  Ernst  Cassirer. 

EDWARD  MURRAY  CASE 

COLUMBIA  UNIVERSITY 


5 
ERNST  CASSIRER 

WE  ARE  gathered  together  in  a  memorial  to  Ernst  Cas- 
sirer.  We  meet  here  to  convey  to  each  other,  in  some 
poor  words,  what  he  meant  to  us  as  man  and  philosopher.  It 
will  take  more,  of  course,  than  we  have  to  give  in  this  meeting 
to  reveal  what  significance  his  work  has  and  will  continue  to 
have  for  many  others  besides  ourselves}  and,  fortunately,  there 
is  to  be  a  volume  of  studies  of  his  philosophy,  where  this 
further  and  more  adequate  appraisal  may  have  place.  But  we 
can,  at  this  moment,  do  something  good  for  ourselves  and  for 
the  memory  of  our  friend,  if  we  simply  speak  of  the  things 
that  promptly  stand  out  in  our  consciousness  now  rather  than 
strain  at  the  impossible  task  of  offering  a  comprehensive  pic- 
ture of  the  whole  man  and  his  work.  These  first  thoughts  that 
come  in  the  dawning  realization  of  our  loss  have  a  very  personal 
character.  Each  one  of  us  has  his  own  individual  feelings  and 
appreciations.  We  are  sharing  these  together  in  this  hour  and 
making  the  man  we  have  known  even  more  real  for  each  other 
as  we  here  tell  how  we  best  remember  him. 

Four  years  ago,  almost  to  the  day,  Ernst  Cassirer  came  to 
this  country,  accompanied  by  his  wife,  without  whom  we  who 
have  but  known  him  these  few  years  cannot  think  of  him. 
They  came  here  direct  from  Sweden,  on  the  last  ship  permitted 
to  go  out,  in  May,  1941.  They  made  themselves  at  home  in 
America,  where  they  already  had  some  dear  ones  waiting  for 
their  arrival.  I  believe  that  we  can  say  that  Ernst  Cassirer  was 
happy  here,  both  in  New  Haven,  where  he  first  came  to  live, 
and  then  in  New  York. 

Let  me  speak  to  you  after  his  own  fashion.  It  was  always 
his  way,  when  telling  of  some  other  thinker  or  philosopher, 

55 


56  CHARLES  W.  HENDEL 

first  to  quote  something  that  was  completely  characteristic  of 
the  man.  He  often  quoted  at  greater  length,  some  people  felt, 
than  he  needed  to  do.  I  recall  a  publisher  saying  this  in  criticism 
of  one  of  his  manuscripts.  "We  want  more  Cassirer,"  he  com- 
plained, "and  less  of  what  other  people  have  thought."  But 
what  other  people  had  learned  and  thought  was  too  important 
to  Ernst  Cassirer  to  be  made  so  little  of.  He  always  knew  that 
many  artists  of  the  mind  had  searched  for  and  shaped  the 
truths  or  the  problems  for  inquiry  with  which  he  himself  was 
concerned  and  he  believed  it  a  duty  to  give  their  "authority," 
in  this  fine  and  original  sense  of  the  term,  before  he  ventured 
to  present  his  own  contribution  to  the  matter.  This  was  his 
style  of  life  and  thought.  It  expressed  both  his  generous  regard 
for  other  thinkers  and  his  modest  estimate  of  his  own  place 
alongside  them  in  the  halls  of  philosophy. 

I  have  in  my  hands  a  precious  document  and  memento  writ- 
ten in  his  own  hand.  Last  year  at  this  time  he  was  saying  fare- 
well to  his  friends  at  Yale.  He  spoke  at  the  Philosophical  Club 
meeting  where  all  of  us  assembled  to  express  to  him  our  appre- 
ciation of  the  three  good  years  we  had  been  privileged  to  have 
together  in  our  study  of  philosophy.  This  is  what  he  said  to 
us  on  that  occasion: 

Looking  back  on  my  long  academic  life  I  must  regard  it  as  a  long 
Odyssey.  It  was  a  sort  of  pilgrimage  that  led  me  from  one  university  to 
the  other,  from  one  country  to  the  other,  and,  at  the  end,  from  one 
hemisphere  to  the  other.  This  Odyssey  was  rich  in  experiences — in  human 
and  intellectual  adventures.  What  was  most  delightful  and  gratifying  in 
this  long  academic  journey  was  the  fact  that  it  became  also,  more  and 
more,  a  sentimental  journey.  For  at  any  new  place  I  was  lucky  enough 
to  find  new  friends.  I  found  colleagues  who  were  ready  to  help  me  in 
my  work,  and  I  found  students  who  were  interested  in  my  philosophical 
views. 

When  I  came  to  this  country  I  cherished  the  hope  that  the  same  would 
happen  here.  And  this  hope  was  not  disappointed.  But,  on  the  other  hand, 
I  found  something  more  and  something  better — something  that  passed 
all  my  expectations.  I  was  not  only  supposed  to  give  my  own  lectures 
and  hold  my  own  courses.  I  was  invited  to  have  a  share  in  the  work  of  my 
colleagues.  During  my  first  year  I  had  the  pleasure  and  the  great  privilege 
to  be  invited  to  a  seminar  on  the  philosophy  of  history  .  .  . ;  in  my  second 


ERNST  CASSIRER  57 

year  I  could  participate  in  a  seminar  on  the  philosophy  of  science  .  .  .; 
in  my  third  year  we  had  a  conjoint  seminar  on  the  theory  of  knowledge, 
.  .  .  That  was,  indeed,  a  new  experience  to  me — and  a  very  suggestive 
and  stimulating  one.  I  look  back  on  these  conjoint  seminars  with  real 
pleasure  and  gratitude.  I  am  sure  I  have  learned  very  much  from  them. 

Of  course,  it  was  in  a  sense  a  rather  bold  enterprise,  the  bringing 
together  of  so  many  philosophers.  As  a  rule  philosophers  seem  not  to  be 
very  fond  of  such  a  close  cooperation.  They  are  apt  to  disagree  in  their 
views,  in  their  interests,  in  their  very  definition  of  what  philosophy  is  and 
means.  And  the  task  that  had  to  be  solved  here  was  so  much  the  more 
doubtful  and  risky  since  three  different  generations  were  expected  to 
have  a  share  in  a  common  work.  To  the  struggle  between  philosophers 
there  was  added  the  struggle  between  the  generations.  In  many  of  our 
modern  systems  of  education  we  are  told  that  it  is  hopeless  to  reconcile  the 
views  of  men  belonging  to  different  generations.  We  are  told  that,  there 
is  a  deep  and  insurmountable  gap  between  the  generations;  that  every 
new  generation  must  feel  in  its  own  way,  think  its  own  thoughts  and 
speak  its  own  language.  I  regard  this  as  a  misleading  and  dangerous 
dogma — and  as  a  dogma  that  throughout  my  life  I  found  constantly 
contradicted  by  my  own  personal  experience.  The  older  I  grow,  so  much 
the  more  I  become  interested  in  the  work  and  the  thoughts  of  the 
younger  men.  And  I  always  found  that  they  readily  answered  to  my 
interest.  To  my  great  satisfaction  I  had  the  same  experience  here.  .  .  . 

Of  course  the  younger  people  criticized  me  sometimes  rather  severely. 
They  could  not  always  agree  with  me;  they  thought  perhaps  that  they 
had  outgrown,  a  long  time  ago,  some  of  the  philosophic  ideas  and  ideals 
that  were  still  very  dear  to  me.  But,  after  all,  they  listened  to  me  and 
they  tolerated  my  very  old-fashioned  philosophy.  They  could  see  my 
point — as  well  as  I  could  see  theirs. 

This  ended  his  "brief  report,"  as  he  then  called  it,  on  his 
life  amongst  us,  though  he  had  even  other  things  to  express, 
more  personal,  on  that  occasion.  But  what  he  said  in  these 
words  just  quoted  belongs  to  no  particular  group  of  colleagues 
and  students  or  university.  It  was  as  much  his  message  to  Co- 
lumbia this  year  as  it  was  to  Yale  then.  It  was  his  report  on  his 
American  sojourn.  And  while  it  reports  our  academic  life  as 
he  really  saw  it,  it  has  greater  truth  still  as  a  revelation  of  him- 
self. 

That  friendship  of  which  he  told,  the  eager  interest  in  ideas, 
the  tolerance  of  mind  .  .  .  "they  could  see  my  point  as  well  as 


58  CHARLES  W.  HENDEL 

I  could  see  theirs."  All  this  happened  because  of  him.  It  was 
his  doing.  "I  was  lucky  enough  to  find  new  friends."  Lucky? 
Oh  no,  he  was  himself  the  architect  of  these  rewarding  per- 
sonal and  academic  relations  which  we  all  so  much  enjoyed.  He 
was  the  philosopher  who  brings  to  birth  the  philosophic  spirit 
and  way  of  life  in  those  who  lived  and  worked  with  him. 

"The  older  I  grow,"  he  had  said,  "the  more  I  become  in- 
terested in  the  thoughts  of  the  younger  men."  Very  few  men 
of  seventy  will  even  think  of  saying  that,  and  there  are  fewer 
still  who,  if  they  were  to  say  it,  would  ever  be  believed.  We 
know  that  he  said  this,  however,  in  all  sincerity  and  without  the 
shadow  of  a  boast.  He  spoke  with  transparent  honesty  when  he 
acknowledged  such  an  intellectual  benefit  for  himself  in  his 
association  with  youth  and  with  the  younger  scholars.  It  was  a 
confession  made  in  fine  simplicity  by  one  who  was  a  genuine 
teacher  of  men. 

He  rejoiced,  as  you  saw,  at  the  idea  especially  of  keeping 
three  generations  in  touch  with  each  other  in  common  work,  the 
young,  the  middle-aged  and  the  old.  He  was  well  aware  of  the 
risk  involved  in  such  an  enterprise  in  education.  We  realize 
from  his  own  words,  too,  that  he  felt  the  severity  of  the  youth- 
ful criticism  directed  at  his  particular  philosophic  beliefs  and 
ideasj  but  we  saw  him,  too,  meeting  the  criticism  with  reason 
and  patience  and  generosity,  and  it  was,  in  fact,  by  so  doing  that 
he  brought  several  generations  so  happily  together  in  adven- 
tures of  learning.  Here  is  another  classic  trait  of  the  philosopher. 
We  all  remember  Socrates  at  the  same  age  and  doing  the  same 
things. 

No  man  of  his  high  caliber  could  live  through  these  last 
twenty-five  years  without  giving  profound  thought  to  the 
whole  plight  of  humanity  in  all  the  nations  of  the  world.  He 
knew  what  adversity  meant  close  at  home.  His  knowledge  of 
vast  periods  of  history  brought  multitudes  of  other  instances 
that  could  weigh  down  the  spirit  with  a  heavy  burden.  He  was 
sensitive  to  the  pain  and  the  hopelessness  that  many  have  to 
suffer  and  must  continue  to  suffer.  Yet  his  vision  kept  in  view 
the  dignity  and  continuity  of  man's  long  struggle  forward  to  a 
life  that  befits  humanity.  Thus  he  succeeded  in  attaining  sere- 


ERNST  CASSIRER  59 

nity  himself.  Yet  he  was  never  aloof  and  abstracted,  for  he 
gave  thought  and  individual  sympathy  for  the  small  personal 
trials  of  everyone  whom  he  knew.  It  was  good  for  one's  soul 
to  be  with  him.  And  no  one  who  knew  him  at  all  could  miss 
that  cheerfulness  which  was  a  sort  of  spiritual  radiance  that 
warmed  and  brightened  our  fellowship.  This  is  the  thing,  I 
believe,  we  should  bear  in  mind  now,  as  we  go  on  to  recall  all 
the  other  things  that  Ernst  Cassirer  has  meant  to  us. 

CHARLES  W.  HENDEL 

DEPARTMENT  OF  PHILOSOPHY 

YALE  UNIVERSITY 


c 

Hendrik  J.  Pos 
RECOLLECTIONS  OF  ERNST  CASSIRER 


RECOLLECTIONS  OF  ERNST  CASSIRER* 

HONORED  by  the  invitation  to  contribute  to  the  Cassirer 
volume,  I  should  like  to  carry  out  this  assignment  by 
saying  something  about  Cassirer,  the  man,  as  well  as  about  his 
philosophical  significance.  I  had  the  privilege  of  studying  Cas- 
sirer's  works  even  before  I  first  heard  his  lectures  in  Hamburg 
during  the  summer  semester  of  1928.  I  then  met  him  in  the 
Spring  of  1929  at  the  Second  University  Congress  in  Davos; 
and  since  1934  I  have  been  in  closer  personal  relationship  with 
him,  which  led  to  my  spending  a  month  with  him  in  Goteberg 
in  the  summer  of  1936,  for  the  purpose  of  co-operating  on  a  task 
which,  due  to  unforeseen  circumstances,  was  never  brought  to 
completion.  The  last  word  I  ever  had  from  him  was  a  postcard, 
dated  May  1940,  expressing  his  concern  over  how  I  had  fared 
since  the  invasion.  Shortly  thereafter  I  was  interned,  and  when 
the  war  was  over  the  news  of  his  death  reached  me. 

When  I  was  a  young  student,  Ernest  Cassirer's  works  on  the 
history  of  the  theory  of  knowledge,  Substance  and  Function,  as 
well  as  on  Einstein's  theory,  opened  up  to  me  the  whole  world 
of  scientific  thought,  which  was  far  removed  from  a  student  of 
classical  philology.  This  study  became  determinative  for  my 
philosophical  development,  insofar  as  I  learned  from  it  the 
nature  of  natural  science  in  contrast  to  cultural  (social)  science, 
and  how  the  former  has  gradually  created  its  own  correct  path 
for  itself,  a  path  which  leads  form  Galileo  through  Newton  to 
Einstein  and  the  moderns.  If,  as  a  young  admirer  of  the  Greeks, 
one  is  inclined  to  take  all  of  Plato's  and  Aristotle's  speculative 
thought  for  immutable  truth,  then  nothing  is  more  instructive 
than  to  take  cognizance  of  the  inexorable  course  pursued  by 

*  Translated  by  Dr.  Robert  W.  Bretall. 

63 


64  HENDRIK  J.  POS 

science  since  the  Renaissance.  To  this  end  Cassirer's  Erkenntnis- 
problem  is  an  excellent  guide.  Endowed  with  a  wonderfully 
flexible  style,  he  knows  how  to  transpose  himself  into  every 
point  of  view,  to  present  it  con  amorey  and  at  the  same  time  to 
trace  the  great  lineage  which  leads  from  speculative  ontology 
and  abstract  verbalism  to  the  rational  empiricism  of  modern 
natural  science.  It  is  most  gratifying  that  the  three  volumes 
which  carry  the  treatment  up  to  Hegel,  are  very  soon,  through 
the  interest  of  Professor  Hendel  of  Yale,  to  be  completed  with 
the  fourth  volume,  which  Cassirer  had  left  in  manuscript.  In 
this  major  work  of  its  kind  Cassirer  exhibited  an  unexcelled 
mastery,  command,  and  disposition  of  his  material,  and  in 
addition,  a  luminous  facility  of  presentation,  which  remains 
unique  in  German  philosophy.  It  is  a  history  of  recent  philoso- 
phy from  the  standpoint  of  the  progress  of  the  natural  sciences. 
It  may  be  that  here  and  there  in  the  quotations  there  is  some 
room  for  improvement:  the  whole  [work]  is  the  expression  of 
an  idea,  which  emerges  clearly  from  the  development  of  the 
natural  sciences  in  modern  times,  the  idea,  namely,  of  the  transi- 
tion from  metaphysical  speculation  to  rational  understanding. 
Here  it  is  shown  how,  by  a  gradual  process  of  trial  and  error,  and 
under  the  decisive  influence  of  scientific  savants,  the  intellectual 
and  technical  mastery  over  nature  has  come  about;  and  how,  in 
this  process,  the  basic  viewpoints  have  altered.  One  cannot  claim 
that  any  old  philosophical  position  fits  into  this  development 
equally  well:  ontologism  sees  itself  compelled  to  separate  the 
empirical  development  of  science  from  the  philosophical  deter- 
mination of  fundamental  principles,  in  order  thus  to  keep  the 
changes  of  empirical  science  far  away  from  the  philosophical 
enterprise.  Cassirer  demonstrated  at  what  cost  the  a  prioristic 
and  established  results  of  philosophy  are  purchased  by  this 
method.  He  also  showed  how  the  historical  development  has 
shoved  aside  this  dualism,  which  amounts  to  a  doctrine  of  the 
twofold  nature  of  truth,  and  how  Kant's  method  of  the  analysis 
of  basic  principles — an  analysis  which  proceeds  from  the  very 
fact  of  existing  science — does  justice  to  the  progress  of  science 
without  robbing  philosophy  of  her  own  task.  Further,  he  showed 
how  the  application  of  Kant's  analysis  to  natural  science  today 


RECOLLECTIONS  OF  ERNST  CASSIRER  65 

makes  it  necessary  to  go  beyond  the  content  of  Kant's  doctrine. 
Of  this  the  Relativity  theory  is  the  classical  demonstration,  inso- 
far as  it  modifies  the  intuition  of  space  and  time,  which  Kant 
still  was  able  to  lay  down  as  the  foundation  of  physics.  This 
[theory]  makes  it  clear  that  the  advance  of  knowledge  consists 
not  only  in  the  material  of  new  experience  being  incorporated 
into  the  fixed  categories,  but  also  in  the  fact  that  the  basic  as- 
sumptions themselves  must  be  revised  from  time  to  time,  in 
order  to  bring  new  facts  into  non-contradictory  connection  with 
old.  Philosophically  considered,  Cassirer  taught  how  to  extend 
the  idea  of  the  process  under  which  the  Marburg  school  sub- 
sumed "knowledge,"  to  include  the  basic  categories  themselves 
and  their  determination — thereby  going  beyond  Kant  and  his 
orthodox  adherents.  This  was  the  only  way  of  safeguarding 
Kantianism  against  the  reproach  of  dogmatism,  and  of  prevent- 
ing it  from  being  left  behind  by  the  advance  of  science,  as  had 
happened  in  the  case  of  ontological  speculation.  Through  his 
"scientism"  Cassirer's  philosophy  has  achieved  an  international 
reputation  which  puts  him  close  beside  the  kindred  figure  of 
Leon  Brunschvicg.  At -Davos  I  was  present  at  conversations 
during  which  the  two  thinkers  made  the  discovery  of  their 
spiritual  affinity. 

Cassirer  was  so  many-sided,  that  his  total  work  was  far  from 
exhausted  by  his  writings  in  the  field  of  epistemology.  To  others 
it  may  be  left  to  come  to  closer  terms  with  the  abiding  merit  of 
his  studies  in  the  history  of  epistemology,  in  theory  of  relativity, 
and  in  the  problem  of  causality  in  recent  physics.  I  turn  now  to 
his  philosophy  of  culture,  set  down  in  the  first  two  volumes  of 
the  Philosofhie  der  symbolischen  Formen.  In  1923  appeared 
the  volume  on  language,  and  in  1925  that  on  mythical  thought. 
The  first  is  a  phenomenology  of  the  formation  of  our  world- 
view  in  terms  of  a  philosophy  of  language;  whereas  the  second 
volume  lays  bare  the  driving  force  which  conditioned  the  crea- 
tion of  a  religion.  Cassirer  was  the  first  to  apply  the  basic  ideas 
of  neo-Kantianism  concerning  spirit  and  its  creative  energy  to 
the  pre-scientific  world-view.  Here,  too,  he  was  guided  by  that 
historical  sense  which  distinguishes  his  treatment  of  the  problem 
of  knowledge.  With  the  aid  of  an  intensive  study  of  the  struc- 


66  HENDRIK  J.  POS 

tures  of  primitive  languages — for  which  the  Warburg  Institute 
in  Hamburg  provided  him  with  the  jviferials — he  sought  to 
construct  a  line  of  development  leadihg  from  the  most  ele- 
mentary categories  of  the  world  to  the  more  objective  ones,  and 
finally  to  the  cognitive  results  of  the  sciences.  The  primitive 
languages,  taken  as  witnesses  to  a  very  remote  stage  of  the  hu- 
man grasp  of  the  universe,  offered  him  valuable  supporting 
evidence  for  his  notion  of  the  gradually  advancing  "symbolical" 
formation  of  the  world-picture,  which  in  the  interest  of  ob- 
jectivity and  of  comprehensive  unification,  gets  farther  and 
farther  away  from  the  original,  primitive  intuitions.  He  showed 
in  a  convincing  manner  how  an  originally  strong,  vital,  and 
qualitatively  conditioned  world-view  gives  way  gradually  to  an 
objective  and  more  universal  one,  this  transition  attesting  itself 
in  the  transformations  of  language  as  it  proceeds  from  a  sensory, 
qualitative  stage  to  a  symbolical-abstract  mode  of  expression. 
Thus  it  becomes  clear  how  the  requirements  of  science  make  it 
necessary  to  introduce  symbols  which  in  precision  and  fruitful- 
ness  surpass  those  of  language. 

One  may  perhaps  harbor  some  doubt  as  to  whether  the  cur- 
rent linguistic  structure  of  a  society  is,  indeed,  always  so  faithful 
an  expression  of  its  manner  of  thought  and  feeling — whether 
now  and  then,  let  us  say,  the  external  structure  may  not  be  in- 
adequate to  the  thought-content.  No  damage  is  thereby  done 
to  the  methodological  principle  of  Cassirer 's  theory  of  language, 
and  it  is  to  be  gratefully  acknowledged  that  through  him  the 
researches  instigated  by  Wilhelm  von  Humboldt  and  by  Wundt 
have  been  fruitfully  continued  and  have  received  their  philo- 
sophical foundation.  The  basic  idea  which  sustains  both  the 
theory  of  language  and  the  theory  of  knowledge  is  the  fact 
that,  by  introducing  symbols,  the  human  consciousness  succeeds 
in  ordering  and  governing  the  welter  of  sensations.  The  cate- 
gories expressed  in  languages  pave  the  way  for  that  logical 
order  for  which  the  sciences  are  striving. 

Cassirer's  philosophy  of  culture  is  a  philosophy  of  the  logos, 
not  in  the  narrow  sense  of  "ratio"  or  of  the  intellect  in  the  purely 
theoretical  sense,  but  rather  in  the  sense  of  that  spiritual,  form- 
indudng  energy  which  appears  in  science,  society,  and  art.  As  a 


RECOLLECTIONS  OF  ERNST  CASSIRER  67 

critic  Cassirer  was  as  ill  disposed  to  metaphysics  as  toward  that 
irration?1'  *n  which  stirred  mightily  in  Germany  between  the 
two  world  wars.  His  Kantian  rationalism  was  bound  to  come 
into  conflict  with  the  intuitionism  of  the  waxing  phenome- 
nology, and  especially  with  the  ontological  and  "philosophy  of 
life"  stamp  which  Heidegger  imparted  to  it.  The  Kant  inter- 
pretations presented  by  Cassirer  and  Heidegger,  together  with 
the  ensuing  discussions,  constituted  the  focal  point  of  the  Inter- 
national Davos  University  course  in  1929. 

The  two  standpoints  could  be  mutually  clarified,  but  they 
could  not  be  brought  any  closer  together.  Cassirer  [on  his  part] 
emphasized  the  spiritual  law,  the  form,  by  means  of  which  man 
liberates  himselfs  from  his  immediacy  and  his  anxiety.  This  is 
the  way  in  which  the  finite  mind  participates  in  the  infinite. 
Whereas  Heidegger  expounded  his  book  on  Kant  and  the  Prob- 
lem of  Metaphysics,  which  had  just  been  published.  He  ex- 
pressed the  opinion  that  Kant's  central  problem  was  not  at  all 
that  of  scientific  knowledge,  but  rather  the  problem  of  the 
metaphysical  comprehension  of  being.  Kant's  philosophy  he  de- 
clared to  be  a  philosophy  of  finite  man,  whose  access  to  the  In- 
finite is  denied,  but  whose  orientation  toward  the  transcendent 
confirms  his  very  finitude.  The  difference  was  clear.  Heidegger 
persisted  in  the  terminus  a  quo,  in  the  situation  at  the  point  of 
departure,  which  for  him  is  the  dominating  factor  in  all  phi- 
losophizing, Cassirer  [on  the  other  hand]  aimed  at  the 
terminus  ad  quern,  at  liberation  through  the  spiritual  form,  in 
science,  practical  activity,  and  art.  The  contrast  was  not  theoreti- 
cal, but  human.  Here  stood,  on  the  one  side,  the  representative 
of  the  best  in  the  universalistic  traditions  of  German  culture,  a 
man  for  whom  Idealism  was  the  victorious  power  which  is  called 
to  mold  and  spiritualize  human  life.  This  man,  the  heir  of  Kant, 
stood  there  tall,  powerful,  and  serene.  His  effect  upon  his 
audience  lay  in  his  mastery  of  exposition,  in  the  Apollonian  ele- 
ment. From  the  beginning  he  had  within  him  the  liberal  culture 
of  Central  Europe,  the  product  of  a  long  tradition.  In  both 
spiritual  lineaments  and  external  appearance,  this  man  belonged 
to  the  epoch  of  Kant,  of  Goethe,  and  of  Kleist,  to  each  of  whom 
he  had  dedicated  some  of  his  literary  efforts.  And  over  against 


68  HENDRIK  J.  POS 

him  stood  an  altogether  different  type  of  man,  who  struggled 
with  Cassirer  over  the  deepest  intentions  of  Kant's  writings.  This 
man  too  had  a  gigantic  intellect.  As  a  man,  however,  he  was 
completely  different.  Of  $etit  bourgeois  descent  from  southwest 
Germany,  he  had  never  lost  his  accent.  In  him  this  was  readily 
forgiven,  being  taken  as  a  mark  of  firm-rootedness  and  peasant 
genuineness.  There  was,  however,  much  more  that  was  of  inter- 
est in  this  man.  In  his  youth  he  was  destined  for  the  priesthood, 
and  was  to  receive  his  seminary  education  at  Constance.  He  ran 
away,  however,  and  became  a  renegade.  At  home  as  almost  no 
one  else  in  Aristotle  and  the  scholastics,  in  Kant  and  Hegel,  he 
constructed  for  himself  a  philosophy  which,  on  the  side  of 
method,  came  close  to  the  phenomenology  of  his  teacher,  Hus- 
serl.  In  point  of  content,  however,  this  philosophy  was  of  course 
entirely  his  own:  there  lay  feelings  at  the  base  of  it  which 
were  concealed  by  the  gigantic  intellectual  superstructure.  But 
when  one  listened  to  his  lectures,  listened  to  this  gloomy,  some- 
what whining  and  apprehensive  tone  of  voice,  then  there  flowed 
forth  the  feelings  which  this  man  harbored  or  at  least  which  he 
knew  how  to  awaken.  These  were  feelings  of  loneliness,  of  op- 
pression, and  of  frustration,  such  as  one  has  in  anxious  dreams, 
but  now  present  in  a  clear  and  wakeful  state  of  mind. 

The  bearer  of  this  mood-philosophy  had  the  ear  of  Germany's 
academic  youth,  not  on  account  of  his  prodigious  knowledge  of 
the  history  of  philosophy,  but  rather  because  he  translated  feel- 
ings which  in  that  youth  found  a  soil  already  prepared.  This 
man  came  to  be  regarded  as  the  great  hope.  His  searching  book 
on  Kant  had  succeeded  in  showing  those  dark,  melancholy  feel- 
ings as  determinative  even  for  the  philosophy  of  the  famous 
sage  of  Konigsberg.  Man  is  a  finite  being  and  cannot  escape  his 
finitude — this,  the  book  taught,  was  to  have  been  the  deepest 
meanings  of  Kant's  thought.  This  carried  conviction,  from  the 
very  first,  for  the  youth  of  a  land  where  the  feeling  of  frustra- 
tion had  for  ten  years  now  been  alive  in  a  sense  other  than  the 
merely  metaphysical  one.  The  little  man  with  the  sinister  wilful 
speech,  who  was  at  home  with  these  morose  feelings,  who  loved 
to  say  that  philosophy  is  no  fun,  the  despiser  of  Goethe — [this 
man]  over  against  the  representative  of  Enlightenment,  basking 


RECOLLECTIONS  OF  ERNST  CASSIRER  69 

in  spiritual  fortune,  for  whom  the  philosopher's  life  was  joy  and 
inspiration,  and  who  in  Goethe  paid  homage  to  the  universal 
man. 

The  whole  discussion  was  the  intuitive  representation  of  this 
profound  cleavage  between  the  two  men.  The  one  abrupt,  nega- 
tive, his  attitude  one  of  protest}  the  other  kindly,  gracious,  ac- 
commodating, always  concerned  to  give  his  partner  more  honor 
than  he  deserved.  The  two  men  reached  an  agreement  on  the 
meaning  of  Kant's  Schematism,  which  represents  the  original 
intermingling  of  sense  and  understanding.  This,  however,  left 
the  main  questions  undecided:  each  one  viewed  Kant  from  the 
standpoint  of  his  own  humanity,  with  the  difference,  however, 
that  the  one  admitted  that  metaphysical  expressions  are  not 
lacking  in  the  text,  whereas  the  other  would  in  no  wise  grant 
that  the  main  concern  of  the  Critique  of  Pure  Reason  was  aimed 
at  grounding  the  scientific  knowledge  of  nature  philosophically. 
Long  went  the  discussions  back  and  forth,  until  finally  they 
terminated.  The  conclusion  was  not  without  human  symbolism; 
the  magnanimous  man  offered  his  hand  to  his  opponent:  but  it 
was  not  accepted. 

The  Davos  conversations  were  symbolical  of  the  tragic  decline 
toward  which  German  philosophy  was  hastening.  Whoever 
at  that  time  still  did  not  grasp  what  was  going  on,  could  get  a 
glimpse  of  it  four  years  later,  when  fate  divided  the  two  Kant 
interpreters  as  irreconcilably  as  had  their  manners  of  thought: 
for  Ernst  Cassirer  there  no  longer  was  any  room  in  Germany. 
He  emigrated  to  Oxford.  In  the  same  year  his  opponent  in  the 
Davos  discussions  was  appointed  rector  of  the  University  of 
Freiburg,  and  in  his  inaugural  address  professed  himself  un- 
reservedly for  National  Socialism.  Germany's  spiritual  collapse 
had  taken  place,  and  Heidegger  placed  his  philosophy  at  the 
service  of  the  self-destruction  of  the  German  intelligentsia. 

When  Ernst  Cassirer  was  forced  to  leave  the  University  of 
Hamburg  in  1933,  he  stood  at  the  peak  of  his  international 
reputation.  It  was  primarily  because  of  him  and  Husserl  that 
German  philosophy,  at  that  time,  flourished  before  the  world. 
For  the  regime,  quite  naturally,  this  was  no  reason  whatsoever 
for  making  an  exception  in  his  case.  On  the  contrary,  interna- 


70  HENDRIK  J.  POS 

tional  recognition  was  then  taken  as  a  proof  of  unreliability, 
especially  if  on  top  of  this  one  was  a  non-Aryan.  Cassirer  loved 
the  free-thinking  Hamburg,  whose  newly  founded  university  he 
had  co-operatively  helped  to  build  ever  since  1919.  The  leave- 
taking  must  have  been  painful,  perhaps  even  more  so  than  the 
cutting  injustice  perpetrated  by  his  dismissal.  So  magnificent 
a  person  was  he,  however,  that  no  word  of  bitterness  was  ever 
heard  from  him  about  the  injustice  done.  With  Olympian 
serenity  he  departed.  A  man  who  for  many  years  had  lived  in 
Cassirer's  shadow  became  his  successor,  and  expressed  his  pleas- 
ure at  the  course  of  events.  Cassirer  rapidly  made  friends  in 
Oxford.  He  learned  English  and  delivered  lectures.  It  was  not 
easy  to  gain  a  genuine  understanding  for  neo-Kantianism.  It 
was  during  his  stay  in  England  that  Cassirer  celebrated  his 
sixtieth  birthday.  The  co-operative  volume,  Philosophy  and 
History,  which  was  presented  to  him  on  this  occasion  (Oxford, 
Clarendon  Press,  1936)  is  a  living  testimonial  to  the  diversity 
of  influence  and  of  inspiration  which  radiated  from  him  upon 
philosophers  and  historians  of  culture  in  all  countries.  The 
twenty-two  essays  had  been  edited  by  Cassirer's  student  Kli- 
bansky  and  the  Oxford  Kantian  scholar  and  historian  of  phi- 
losophy, H.  J.  Paton.  The  contributions  came  from  England, 
France,  Holland,  Germany,  Switzerland,  Italy,  Spain,  and 
America.  In  the  preface  the  editors  wrote:  "It  is  our  hope  that 
this  book  may  bear  witness  to  that  enduring  spiritual  bond  which 
unites  scholars  of  different  countries  and  different  traditions." 
The  name  of  Cassirer  actually  symbolized  a  universalism  and 
internationalism  which  recognizes  every  member  of  mankind  for 
its  spiritual  contribution  to  the  whole  culture  pattern,  on  the 
presupposition  that  through  such  mutual  recognition,  the  unity 
of  mankind  will  be  honored  and  promoted. 

The  further  course  of  Cassirer's  life  was  to  bear  still  further 
testimony  to  this  universalism.  In  1935  he  emigrated  to  Sweden, 
where  his  former  student  Jacobson  vacated  for  him  the  chair 
in  philosophy  at  the  University,  while  he  himself  accepted  the 
appointment  as  Governor  of  the  Province  of  Bohnslau.  Here 
too  Cassirer  made  devoted  friends  and  enthusiastic  students. 
And  here  in  the  summer  of  1936  I  had  the  privilege  of  being 


RECOLLECTIONS  OF  ERNST  CASSIRER  71 

allowed  to  carry  on  a  series  of  conversations  with  him  in  a  sub- 
ject for  which  we  had  conceived  the  plan  of  a  co-operative 
volume  during  his  stay  in  Amsterdam:  the  influence  of  the 
Greek  language  on  philosophy.  Was  Greek  from  the  very  first 
a  language  well  adapted  to  philosophical  thought?  Or  did  the 
thinkers  rather  take  the  instrument  at  hand  in  its  natural  state 
and  adapt  it  to  their  particular  needs  of  expression?  How  far 
does  the  unconscious  influence  of  the  inner  linguistic  form  of 
Greek  extend  to  the  construction  of  metaphysical  concepts? 
These  and  similar  questions  we  discussed  intensively}  during 
which  process  Cassirer  unfolded  his  masterly  gift  of  intellectual 
sympathy  and  dialectical  skill.  After  these  preparatory  conversa- 
tions we  promised  each  other  to  work  them  out  during  the  next 
summer.  It  never  got  that  far.  Since  1936  I  have  remained  in 
correspondence  with  Cassirer,  but  have  never  seen  him  again. 
A  very  promising  participation  in  a  Hegel  conference  at  Amers- 
foort  had  to  be  declined  by  him  for  reasons  of  health.  In  Sweden 
too  Cassirer  did  fruitful  work.  His  stay  in  the  North  furnished 
him  the  occasion  for  taking  up  his  Cartesian  studies  once  more 
and  for  engaging  in  documentary  research  on  Descartes'  life  in 
Stockholm.  The  fruits  of  these  years  were  many  an  article  in  the 
philosophical  journal  Theoria,  edited  by  Ake  Petzall,  a  book 
on  the  development  of  the  concept  of  causality,  and  the  book  on 
Descartes. 

In  May,  1941,  Cassirer  came  to  America  with  the  last  ship 
which  was  permitted  to  make  the  crossing.  Of  his  work  at  Yale, 
until  1944,  and  at  Columbia  until  his  death  on  April  13,  1945, 
Professor  Charles  Hendel  has  given  a  beautiful  account  in  the 
Journal  of  Philosophy  and  Phenomenological  Research  (Sept., 
1945,  156-159).  The  quotation  there  reproduced  really  consti- 
tutes the  autobiography  of  Ernst  Cassirer.  A  great  man  looks 
back  upon  the  Odyssey  of  his  life,  in  the  course  of  which  he  has 
had  to  wander  from  land  to  land  and  from  continent  to  conti- 
nent. He  did  it  modestly,  cheerfully,  and  magnificently.  Sub- 
jectively considered,  this  man's  gratitude  to  others  is  perfectly 
sincere;  whereas  taken  objectively,  it  is  not  without  irony,  since 
it  was  not  he  but  the  others  who  had  cause  to  be  grateful.  But 
that  is  the  way  Ernst  Cassirer  was;  he  sought  no  glory,  and  yet 


72  HENDRIK  J.  POS 

he  gained  it;  he  esteemed  others  higher  than  himself,  but 
actually  was  their  superior.  This  was  the  secret  of  the  inspiring 
and  uplifting  effect  which  emanated  from  his  presence.  There 
was  nothing  in  him  of  professorial  vainglory,  and  yet  he  was  a 
teacher  beyond  compare.  He  did  not  hesitate  to  cite  the  writings 
of  a  man  who  had  lived  for  many  years  in  his  shadow  and  who 
was  openly  jealous  of  him.  And  I  can  still  hear  him  speaking, 
in  Davos,  to  a  very  young  instructor:  "You  and  I  have  the  same 
philosophical  interests,  and  I  am  very  glad  of  this."  This  was  his 
self-giving  virtue,  the  generosite  of  the  Descartes  he  so  greatly 
admired.  One  scarcely  knows  what  to  marvel  at  most,  this  man's 
gigantic  intellect,  his  consummate  form  of  expression,  or  his 
chivalrous  humanity. 

His  philosophy  reveals  his  character  through  its  capacity  for 
transposing  itself  sympathetically  into  various  and  sundry  phil- 
osophical viewpoints,  without  thereby  losing  the  distinctive 
lines  of  his  own  thinking.  To  the  editor  of  this  book  I  have  to 
express  my  gratitude  for  the  opportunity  of  bearing  witness,  by 
a  short  and  fleeting  sketch,  to  my  grateful  admiration  for  a  man 
to  whom  German  philosophy  owes  more  than  to  any  other  of 
its  current  representatives — (viz.,)  that  in  the  time  of  its  shame 
and  its  decline,  it  has  been  able  to  maintain  its  age-old  renown 
in  the  eyes  of  the  world. 

HENDRIK  J.  Pos 

PHILOSOPHICAL  FACULTY 

UNIVERSITY  OF  AMSTERDAM 


I 

Carl  H.  Hamburg 
CASSIRER'S  CONCEPTION  OF  PHILOSOPHY 


CASSIRER'S  CONCEPTION  OF  PHILOSOPHY 

IF  IT  IS  the  mark  of  a  great  thinker  that  death  cannot 
interrupt  the  continuity  of  his  intellectual  influence,  and 
if,  furthermore,  an  ever  growing  demand  for  his  published 
thought  may  be  taken  as  one  way  of  measuring  his  greatness, 
the  late  Ernst  Cassirer  must  well  be  accorded  this  rare  title. 
Within  three  years  after  an  untimely  death  cut  short  his  teach- 
ing career  at  Columbia  University,  there  have  rolled  off  the 
presses  several  printings  of  his  Essay  on  Man  (first  published 
in  1944),  Language  and  Myth  (translated  in  1946  and  already 
out  of  print)  and  Myth  of  the  State  (fourth  printing  since 
1946),  all  of  which  have  simultaneously  been  translated  into 
Spanish  and  some  of  which  will  soon  appear  in  French,  Ger- 
man, and  Dutch.  In  addition,  we  may  expect  in  the  not  too 
distant  future  English  editions  of  Determinism  and  Indeter- 
minism  in  Modern  Physics?  the  fourth  volume  of  his  famous 
Erkenntnisproblem?  the  Philosophy  of  the  Enlightenment? 
and  possibly,  the  Logic  of  the  Humanities?  Spanish  transla- 
tions of  Kant's  Life  and  Work?  and  the  Philosophy  of  Sym- 
bolic Forms6  as  well  as  posthumous  publication  in  German  of 

1  Dcterminlsmus  und  Indeterminismus  in  der  modernen  Physik}  Historische  und 
systematische  Studien  zum  Kausalproblem.  (Goeteborgs  Hoegskolas  Arsskrift.  Vol. 
XLIIj  1936)  5  ix,  265  pp. 

*To  be  published  sometime  in  1948,  this  volume  will  deal  with  physical, 
biological  and  historical  methods.  (Approx.  500  pp.) 

1  Die  Philosophic  der  Aufklaerung.  (Tuebingen,  Mohr,  1932)$  491  pp. 

*  Zur  Logik  der  Kulturwissenschaftenj  Fuenf  Studien.   (Der  Gegenstand  der 
Kulturwissenschaftj  Ding-  und  Ausdruckswahrnehmung  j  Naturbegriffe  und  Kul- 
turbegriffej   Formproblem  und  Kausalproblem  j   Die  "Tragoedie  der  Kultur".) 
(Goeteborgs    Hoegskolas   Arsskrift  $    Vol.    XL VII  $    1942)$    139    pp. 

*  Kant's  Leben  und  Lehre.  Vol.  XI  of  £.  Cassirer's  edition  of  Kant's  ScMften 
(Berlin,  Bruno  Cassirer,  1918) j  viii,  448  pp. 

*  Philosophic  der  symbolischen  Formen  (see  Bibliography  in  this  Vol.) 

75 


76  CARL  H.  HAMBURG 

his  Kleinere  Schriften7  and  the  collection  of  essays  into  a 
Goethe-book. 

Now,  if  these  publishing  announcements  may  be  taken  to 
reflect  a  considerable  preoccupation  with  the  work  of  Cassirer, 
such  interest  is  certainly  not  properly  taken  cognizance  of  in  our 
teaching  curricula.  It  is  doubtful  whether  in  any  of  the  many 
courses,  offered  on  the  subject  of  "Contemporary  Philosophy" 
in  American  colleges  and  universities,  more  than  summary — 
if  any — mention  is  made  of  the  philosophy  of  Cassirer.  In  the 
case  of  this  thinker,  we  seem  to  be  facing  the  rather  familiar 
paradox  that  a  lively  'interest'  in  his  philosophy  goes  hand  in 
hand  with  just  as  lively  an  ignorance  concerning  what  his 
philosophy  is  about.  Although  there  is  undoubtedly  more  than 
one  reason  for  this  circumstance,  a  decisive  one,  I  believe,  must 
be  seen  in  the  fact  that,  whereas  Cassirer  achieved  early  fame 
with  his  historical  works,  his  philosophy  proper  was  not  de- 
veloped before  the  publication  of  his  Philosophie  der  sym- 
bolischen  Foremen,  the  latest  volume  of  which  appeared  in  1929, 
at  a  time  when  in  Germany  phenomenology  and  the  "lebens- 
philosophischen"  precursors  of  existentialist  philosophies  had 
all  but  eclipsed  the  classicism  of  Cassirer's  theme  and  style. 

Cassirer's  philosophy  proper  has,  accordingly,  neither  re- 
ceived the  attention  that  a  German  intelligentsia  gave  to  lesser 
intellectual  events  in  the  anxious  pre-Hitler  years  nor  has  an 
English-speaking  audience  had  the  opportunity  to  satisfy — by  a 
closer  study  of  a  translated  version  of  the  Philosophie  der 
symbolischen  Formen — the  interest  in  his  thought  which  such 
books  as  An  Essay  on  Man  and  Language  and  Myth  have  al- 
ready provoked.  Although  it  is  to  be  hoped  that  arrangements 
for  an  English  translation  of  Cassirer's  magnum  of  us  will  soon 
be  made,  in  the  meantime  there  may  be  some  value  in  sketching 
somewhat  broadly  what  may  be  termed  his  'conception  of  phi- 
losophy.' To  this  purpose  we  shall  examine  Cassirer's  symbolic- 
form  concept,  upon  the  proper  understanding  of  which  hinges 
both  his  conception  of  what  philosophy  has  been  and  what  it 
must  be,  if  it  is  to  give  full  and  impartial  attention  to  the 

T  Containing  a  number  of  previously  published  essays,  most  of  which  are  out 
of  print  by  now. 


CONCEPTION  OF  PHILOSOPHY  77 

phenomena  of  the  "natural"  as  well  as  of  the  "cultural" 
sciences,  to  both  the  Natur-  und  Kulturwissenschaften. 

THE  SYMBOLIC — FORM  CONCEPT 
a.  Terminological  distinctions 

The  term  "symbolic  form"  is  employed  by  Cassirer  in  at 
least  three  distinct,  though  related,  senses: 

(1)  It  covers  what  is  more  frequently  referred  to  as  the 
"symbolic  relation,"  the  "symbol-concept,"  the  "symbolic  func- 
tion," or,  simply,  the  "symbolic"  (das  Symbolische) . 

(2)  It  denotes  the  variety  of  cultural  forms  which — as  myth, 
art,  religion,  language,  and  science — exemplify  the  realms  of 
application  for  the  symbol-concept. 

(3)  It  is  applied  to  space,  time,  cause,  number,  etc.  which — 
as  the  most  pervasive  symbol-relations — are  said  to  constitute, 
with  characteristic  modifications,  such  domains  of  objectivity  as 
listed  under  (2). 

In  correspondence  with  this  division,  we  shall  in  the  sequel 
deal  first  with  the  "symbol-concept."  Indication  will  be  given 
of  both  the  "cultural"  import  attributed  to  it  by  Cassirer  and 
the  essentially  Kantian  epistemological  provisions  within  which 
it  is  developed.  We  shall  attempt  an  adequate  definition  of  this 
concept  and  consider  both  objections  and  a  possible  defense  for 
its  maintenance.  We  shall  examine,  secondly,  how  a  philosophy 
thus  oriented  may  be  conceived  as  a  transition  from  a  critique  of 
reason  to  a  critique  of  culture.  As  such,  it  would  suggest  a 
widening  of  the  scope  of  philosophic  concern  by  putting  the 
"transcendental  question"  beyond  science  to  other  types  of 
institutionalized  activities  which,  such  as  art,  language,  science, 
etc.,  actually  define  the  meaning  of  the  term  "culture."  And, 
thirdly,  we  shall  view  Cassirer's  inquiry  into  symbolic  forms  as 
a  study  of  the  basic  (intuitional  and  categorial)  forms  of  syn- 
thesis (space,  time,  cause,  number,  etc.)  and  their  characteristi- 
cally different  functioning  in  a  greater  variety  of  contexts  than 
was  considered  by  Kant.  If  presented  thus,  one  could  clarify  just 
what  type  of  metaphysics  would  be  both  possible  and  profitable 
within  Cassirer's  philosophy  of  symbolic  forms. 


78  CARL  H.  HAMBURG 

b.  The  Symbol-Concept.  Efistemological  considerations 

As  the  most  universal  concept  to  be  formulated  within  Cas- 
sirer's  philosophy,  the  symbol-concept  is  to  cover  "the  totality 
of  all  phenomena  which — in  whatever  form — exhibit  'sense  in 
the  senses'  (Sinnerjuellung  im  Sinnlichen)  and  in  which  some- 
thing 'sensuous'  (ein  Sinnliches)  is  represented  as  a  particular 
embodiment  of  a  'sense'  (Bedeutungy  meaning)."8  Here  a 
definition  of  the  symbol-concept  is  given  by  way  of  the  two 
terms  of  the  "sensuous"  on  one  hand  and  the  "sense"  (mean- 
ing) on  the  other,  and  a  relation  between  the  two,  which  is  most 
frequently  referred  to  as  "one  representing  the  other."  The 
extremely  general  character  of  this  pronouncement  must  be 
noted.  Cassirer's  claim  exceeds  by  far  what  has  ordinarily  been 
admitted  about  the  "symbolical  character"  of  knowledge.  Al- 
though not  all  philosophers  would  subscribe  to  the  idea  that 
all  knowledge  is  of  a  mediate  type,  it  could  perhaps  be  said  that 
to  the  extent  that  knowledge  is  taken  to  be  mediate,  it  may  also 
be  said  to  be  "symbolical"  by  virtue  of  its  dependence  upon 
(sets  or  systems  of)  signs  which  determine  the  discursive 
(linguistic  or  mathematical)  medium  within  which  it  is  attained. 
Whereas  the  history  of  ideas  discloses  a  varying  emphasis  put 
by  different  thinkers  upon  sometimes  one,  sometimes  another 
of  the  (symbolic)  media  to  be  trusted  for  the  grand  tour  to  the 
"really  real,"  it  also  appears  to  substantiate  Cassirer's  general 
formula,  according  to  which  all  knowledge — as  mediate — is 
defined  as  implying  (besides  an  interpretant,  mind,  Geisi) 
both:  the  given-ness  of  perceptual  signs  (sensuous  vehicles,  ein 
Sinnliches)  and  something  signified  (meaning,  Sinn).  But,  al- 
though Cassirer's  above  quoted  symbol-definition  would  indeed 
be  wide  enough  to  cover  such  area  of  considerable  agreement 
with  respect  to  the  symbolically  mediate  character  of  knowl- 
edge, note  that  it  formulates  no  restrictions  with  respect  to 
cognitive  discourse.  The  "representative"  relation  which  is 
asserted  to  hold  between  the  senses  and  the  sense  (mean- 
ing) is,  in  other  words,  not  taken  to  be  exhaustively  defined  by 

*PMlosopMe  der  symbolischen  Formen,  Vol.  Ill,  109.  To  be  abbreviated 
henceforth  as:  PSF. 


CONCEPTION  OF  PHILOSOPHY  79 

grammatical,  logical,  or  mathematical  syntax-types,  which  de- 
termine the  conventional  forms  of  discourse  within  which 
knowledge  is  held  to  be  mediated.  Instead,  it  is  to  cover  "the 
whole  range  of  all  phenomena  within  which  there  is  sense  in 
the  senses,"  i.e.,  in  all  contexts  in  which  (e.g.,  on  the  expressive 
and  intuitional  levels)  experience  is  had  as  of  "characters" 
(persons)  and  "things"  in  space  and  time.  The  issue,  therefore, 
of  a  confrontation  by  "signs"  of  "facts,"  which  would  be 
germane  to  all  those  views  which  consider  essentially  the  dis- 
cursive dimension  of  symbol-situations,  cannot  even  come  up 
for  a  philosophy  according  to  which  "facts"  cannot  be  evidence 
for  (or  against)  "symbols,"  simply  because  their  very  "factu- 
ality"  is  not  considered  meaningful  outside  of  some  determinate 
symbolic  context.  The  objection,  therefore,  raised  by  many 
philosophers  against  scholasticism,  to  the  effect  that  the  latter 
replaced  the  consideration  of  facts  by  that  of  symbols  (names), 
need  not  invalidate  Cassirer's  position  for  which 

there  is  no  f actuality  ...  as  an  absolute  .  .  .  immutable  datum;  but 
what  we  call  a  fact  is  always  theoretically  oriented  in  some  way,  seen 
in  regard  to  some  .  .  .  context  and  implicitly  determined  thereby.  Theo- 
retical elements  do  not  somehow  become  added  to  a  'merely  factual,'  but 
they  enter  into  the  definition  of  the  factual  itself.9 

Once  the  "facts,"  the  state  of  affairs,  the  objects,  which  are 
designated  by  conventional  signs,  are  realized  as  themselves 
partaking  of  expressive  (qualitative)  and  perceptive  (intui- 
tional) "symbolisms"  of  their  own,  the  question  of  the  appli- 
cation of  symbols  to  facts  is  replaced  by  the  question  concerning 
the  "checking"of  one  symbol-context  by  another,  considered 
more  reliable  or  more  easily  institutable. 

In  this  connection,  a  brief  consideration  of  the  issue  of  con- 
firmation may  be  to  the  point.  In  Carnap's  version 

the  scientist  describes  his  own  observations  concerning  a  certain  planet 
in  a  report  Oi.  Further,  he  takes  into  consideration  a  theory  T,  con- 
cerning the  movements  of  planets  (also  laws  assumed  for  the  justifiable 
application  of  his  instruments.  C.H.).  From  Oi  and  T  the  astronomer 

9  PSF,  Vol.  Ill,  475.  See  also:  Substance  and  Function,  143. 


80  CARL  H.  HAMBURG 

deduces  a  prediction;  he  calculates  the  apparent  position  of  the  planet  for 
the  next  night.  At  that  time,  he  will  make  a  new  observation  and  formu- 
late it  in  a  report  Oz.  Then  he  will  compare  the  prediction  P  with  Oa 
and  thereby  find  it  either  confirmed  or  not.10 

A  theoretical  symbolism,  in  other  words,  is  confirmed  when 
the  phenomena,  which  the  symbolism  predicts,  are  observed. 
Concededly,  however,  there  is  a  hypothetical  reference  to  con- 
text not  only  in  the  theory  to  be  confirmed  but  also  in  the  ob- 
servations which  do  the  confirming.  "All  observation  involves 
more  or  less  explicitly  the  element  of  hypothesis."11  On  the 
view  proposed  by  Cassirer,  to  say  that  a  theory  (in  combination 
with  statements  regarding  initial  conditions)  is  confirmed  by 
"observation"  would  not  require  recognition  of  and  recourse  to 
any  non-symbolic  factuality,  disclosed  to  the  senses  free  from 
all  elements  of  interpretation}  but  it  would,  instead,  be  equiva- 
lent to  saying  that  hypothetically  constructed  contexts  (theories 
regarding  the  orbit  of  a  planet)  would  be  confirmable  if  from 
it  certain  data  can  be  deduced  (its  position  at  a  certain  time) 
such  that,  by  appropriate  co-ordination  of  a  perceptual  context, 
what  are  defined  as  light-rays  in  one  context,  will  be  interpreted 
as  the  determinate  color  and  shape  of  a  "thing"  (planet)  in 
another.  Furthermore:  we  have  an  "interpretant"  with  his 
attendant  "perspectives,"  a  sign-signified  relation  on  both  the 
theoretical  and  the  observational  levels.  To  hold  that  the 
former  stands  in  need  of  confirmation  by  the  latter — and  not 
vice  versa — ,to  maintain  that  "the  scientific  criterion  of  objec- 
tivity rests  upon  the  possibility  of  occurrence  of  predicted  per- 
ceptions to  a  society  of  observers"  (ibid.,  5),  is  fully  intelligible 
within  the  provisions  of  Cassirer's  view  which  cannot  except  ob- 
servation from  a  symbolic  interpretation.  Whether  as  observa- 
tion of  pointer-readings  or  of  "things,"  the  "confirmatory" 
character  of  observation  does  not  depend  upon  its  confrontation 
by  non-symbolic  facts  of  symbolic  theories,  but  rather  upon  the 
easily  (almost  immediately)  institutable  and  shareable  nature 
of  the  perceptual  context  in  which  we  have  "facts"  and  to 

10  Rudolf  Carnap,  Foundations  of  Logic  and  Mathematics,  i. 

11  Victor  Lenzen :  Procedures  of  Empirical  Science,  4. 


CONCEPTION  OF  PHILOSOPHY  81 

which  all  other  contexts  can  be  co-ordinated  in  varying  degrees 
of  explicitness. 

We  suggest,  therefore,  that  whereas  the  import  of  symbolic 
media  for  the  intelligibility  of  reality  is  certainly  not  a  new 
discovery  and  has  been  realized  by  philosophers  from  Plato  to 
Dewey,  the  thesis  that  a  symbolic  relation  obtains  for  any 
possible  (culturally  encounterable)  context  in  which  we  per- 
ceive or  observe  a  "world,"  expresses  what  is  most  distinctive  in 
Cassirer's  conception  of  philosophy. 

A  comparable  extension  of  the  philosophical  concern  beyond 
the  cognitive  to  other  types  of  signifying  and  modes  of  sign- 
usages  has  been  advocated  more  recently  by  positivistic  thinkers, 
who  are  intent  upon  establishing  a  more  secure  foundation  for 
the  discipline  of  semiotics.  Unfortunately,  Cassirer  himself 
nowhere  explicitly  differentiates  his  own  type  of  inquiry  from 
the  kind  of  sign-analyses  carried  on  by,  e.g.,  Carnap  and 
Morris.12  We  shall,  therefore,  briefly  consider  both  areas  of 
agreement  and  points  of  divergence  characteristic  of  the  two 
schools  of  thought  before  proceeding  to  examine  the  epistemo- 
logical  orientation  within  which  Cassirer's  own  philosophy  of 
symbolic  forms  is  developed. 

Note  that  Cassirer  could  well  agree  with  a  view  according 
to  which  "the  most  effective  characterization  of  a  sign  is  the 
following:  S  is  a  sign  of  D  for  I  to  the  degree  that  I  takes 
account  of  D  by  virtue  of  the  presence  of  S,"18  where  I  stands 
for  the  interpretant  of  a  sign,  D  for  what  is  designated,  and 
S  for  the  vehicle  (mark,  sound,  or  gesture)  by  means  of  which 
D  is  designated  to  I.  Yet,  although  the  proposal  to  understand 
sign-processes  as  "mediated-taking-accounts  of"  is  also  implied 
in  Cassirer's  conception  of  the  matter,  there  would  be  a  charac- 
teristic shift  of  terms.  Where  Morris,  e.g.,  has  his  "interpre- 
tant," Cassirer  would  speak  in  terms  of  "Bewusstsein"  or 
"Geist:"  "the  meaning  of  spirit  (Geist)  can  be  disclosed  only 
in  its  expression;  the  ideal  form  (what  is  designated)  comes  to 

"Rudolf  Carnap j  Foundations  of  Logic  and  Mathematics^  1939.  Charles  W. 
Morris,  Foundations  of  the  Theory  of  Signs,  1938$  and  Language ,  Signs  and 
Behavior,  1946. 

M  Charles  W.  Morris,  foundations  of  the  Theory  of  Signs,  4. 


82  CARL  H.  HAMBURG 

be  known  only  in  and  with  the  system  of  sensible  signs  by 
means  of  which  it  is  expressed."14  Likewise,  the  distinction  be- 
tween the  sign-vehicle  (S)  and  the  designation  of  the  sign  (D) 
by  Cassirer  is  put  in  terms  of  a  correlation  alternatively  called 
"the  sign  and  the  signified,"  "the  particular  and  the  general," 
"the  sensuous  and  its  sense"  (das  Sinnliche  imd  sein  Sinn). 
There  is  agreement,  then,  on  this  basic  point:  for  anything  to  be 
a  sign  does  not  denote  a  property  characterizing  a  special  class 
of  objects,  but — speaking  in  the  material  mode — it  indicates 
that  it  participates  in  the  sign-process  as  a  whole  within  which 
it  "stands"  to  somebody  for  something,  or — in  the  formal  mode 
— that  it  can  be  defined  only  in  terms  of  a  three-term  relation 
of  the  form  "I-S-D,"  where  "I"  designates  the  "taking- 
account-of,"  "S"  the  mediators  of  the  "taking-account-of,"  and 
"D"  what  is  taken  account  of.  In  Cassirer  Js  language:  "The  act 
of  the  conceptual  determination  of  what  is  designated  (ernes 
Inhalts)  goes  hand  in  hand  with  the  act  of  its  fixation  by  some 
characteristic  sign.  Thus,  all  truly  concise  and  exacting  thought 
is  secured  in  the  'SymboUk*  and  'Semiotik*  which  support  it."15 
For  a  correct  understanding  of  Cassirer's  position  all  depends 
here  upon  the  interpretation  we  put  upon  this  metaphor  of  "the 
sign  and  the  signified  going  hand  in  hand."  For  Morris,  mani- 
festly, the  relationship  suggested  is  one  interchangeably  alluded 
to  as  one  of  signs  "indicating,"  "announcing,"  or  "suggesting" 
the  presence  of  whatever  they  denote,  designate,  or  signify. 
For  Cassirer,  on  the  other  hand,  HusserPs  dictum  in  the  matter 
holds:  "Das  Bedeuten  ist  nicht  eine  Art  des  Zeichen-Seins  im 
Sinne  der  Anzeige"  (To  signify  is  not  a  way  of  being  a  sign  in 
the  sense  of  being  an  indication.)18  The  indicative  function  of 
signs,  upon  the  broad  basis  of  which  Morris  attempts  to  sketch 
the  foundations  of  a  semiotic,  is  accordingly  of  just  the  kind 
that  Cassirer  would  have  to  consider  as  inadequate  for  an  under- 
standing of  the  symbolic  function  properly  speaking.  In  the 
formulation  of  this  distinction  by  Susanne  Langer:  "The  funda- 
mental difference  between  signs  and  symbols  is  this  difference 

"PSF,  Vol.  I,  1 8. 
MP£F,Vol.  I,  1 8. 
16  Edmund  Husserl,  Logische  Untersuchungen,  Vol.  II,  23. 


CONCEPTION  OF  PHILOSOPHY  83 

of  association,  and  consequently  of  their  use  by  the  third  party  to 
the  meaning  function,  the  subject:  signs  announce  their  objects 
to  him,  whereas  symbols  lead  him  to  conceive  their  objects."17 
Against  this  establishment  of  a  "fundamental"  difference, 
Morris  has  advanced  the  objection  that  too  much  is  made  of 
what  essentially  seems  to  amount  to  a  mere  difference  of  degree. 

A  symbol  is  on  the  whole  a  less  reliable  sign  than  is  a  sign  (that  is  a 
signal)  .  .  .  (the  latter)  being  more  closely  connected  with  external 
relations  in  the  environment  is  more  quickly  subject  to  correction  by  the 
environment.  .  ,  .  But,  since  signals  too  have  varying  degrees  of  re- 
liability, the  difference  remains  one  of  degree.18 

Now,  regardless  of  whether  or  not  one  agrees  with  Morris 
that  environmental  correction  in  the  case  of  signals  is  in  all 
contexts  more  reliable  than  purely  symbolic  procedures  such  as 
provided,  e.g.,  by  derivations  or  calculations,  one  need  not  argue 
that,  once  the  behavioristic  approach  is  taken  with  regard  to  both 
signs  and  symbols,  they  may  indeed  be  considered  as  compara- 
ble— and  not  fundamentally  distinct — means  through  which 
behavior  may  be  informed  in  different  degrees  of  reliability.  To 
take  signs  as  related  to  dispositions  of  behavior  is  to  be  primarily 
interested  in  the  modes  in  which  they  come  to  inform,  incite, 
appraise,  or  direct  action.  To  emphasize  signs  in  their  symbolic 
use  is  to  inquire  not  so  much  into  what  they  "announce,"  "ap- 
praise," etc.,  but  into  their  "meaning,"  the  "domain  of  objec- 
tivity" they  appear  to  condition.  An  inquiry  into  the  symbolic 
function  of  signs,  as  Cassirer  puts  it, 

is  not  concerned  with  what  we  see  in  a  certain  perspective,  but  (with) 
the  perspective  itself  ...  [so  that]  the  special  symbolic  forms  are  not 
imitations,  but  organs  of  reality,  since  it  is  solely  by  their  agency  that 
anything  real  becomes  an  object  for  intellectual  apprehension  and  as 
such  is  made  visible  to  us.  The  question  as  to  what  reality  is  apart  from 
these  forms,  and  what  are  its  independent  attributes,  becomes  irrelevant 
here.19 

Cassirer  insists,  in  other  words,  that  the  truly  symbolic  (the 

17  Susanne  K.  Langer,  Philosophy  in  a  New  Key,  61. 

18  Charles  W.  Morris,  Signs,  Language  and  Behavior >  50. 

19  Language  and  Myth,  translated  by  S.  Langer,  8. 


84  CARL  H.  HAMBURG 

properly  "significative")  meaning  of  sign- functions  cannot  be 
looked  for  in  the  indicative  office  performed  by  them,  but  refers 
to  their  role  as  "organs  of  reality"  as  which  they  are  said  to 
"bring  about"  (condition)  what  is  meant  by  an  "object"  in  the 
various  universes  of  discourse,  intuition,  and  expression. 

In  accordance  with  three  senses  in  which  the  symbolic-form 
concept  is  used  (see  above),  to  say  that  "the  symbolic  forms 
are  . . .  organs  of  reality"  would  be  equivalent  to  the  following 
three  expressions  of  the  thesis: 

1 i )  No  meaning  can  be  assigned  to  any  object  outside  the  cul- 
tural (mythical,  artistic,  common-sensical,  scientific)  contexts 
in  which  it  is  apprehended,  understood,  or  known. 

(2)  No  meaning  can  be  assigned  to  any  object  except  in  refer- 
ence to  the  pervasive  symbolic-relation  types  of  space,  time, 
cause  and  number  which  "constitute"  objectivity  in  all  domains, 
with  the  modifications  characteristic  of  the  media  listed  under 

<'>• 

(3)  No  meaning  can  be  assigned  to  any  object  without,  in 
whatever  form,  assuming  a  representative  relationship — ex- 
pressed in  the  symbol-concept — which,  abstractable  from  any 
context,  would  be  said  to  hold  between  given  "sensuous" 
moments,  on  the  one  hand,  and  a  (in  principle)  non-senuous 
"sense"  moment,  on  the  other. 

How,  we  must  ask  now,  is  both  the  pervasiveness  and  the 
objectifying  office  of  the  symbolic- form  concept  to  be  demon- 
strated? Keeping  Cassirer's  Kantian  orientation  in  mind,  it  will 
follow  that  his  inquiry  into  the  objectifying  pervasiveness  of 
symbols  cannot  properly  be  expected  to  point  to  or  to  discover 
facts  or  activities  hitherto  unknown  or  inaccessible  to  either  the 
sciences  or  such  other  culturally  extant  types  of  experience- 
accounting  as  religion,  myths,  the  arts.  Kant,  it  will  be  re- 
membered, set  out  to  clarify  his  "misunderstood"  Kritik  by 
demonstrating  in  the  Prolegomena  that  neither  mathematics 
nor  the  physical  sciences  would  be  "possible"  unless  the  pure 
forms  of  intuition  and  certain  categorial  determinations  were 
presupposed  as  valid  for  all  experience.  Analogously,  Cassirer 
maintains  that  the  symbol-concept  must  be  taken  as  just  as 
pervasive  as  are,  in  fact,  the  sciences,  arts,  myths,  and  languages 


CONCEPTION  OF  PHILOSOPHY  85 

of  common  sense,  all  of  which  may  be  conceived  as  employing 
symbols  in  their  respective  experience-accountings.  To  say, 
furthermore,  that  symbols  "objectify"  would,  on  this  interpre- 
tation, mean  nothing  else  than  that  these  various  domains 
themselves,  in  their  symbolic  evaluation  of  the  perceptive  data 
to  which  they  apply,  furnish  the  only  contexts  within  which 
one  can  meaningfully  speak  of  any  kind  of  "objectivity."  There 
is,  in  other  words,  no  point  in  producing  examples  to  illustrate 
what  exactly  Cassirer  means  when  he  credits  symbols  with 
"bringing  about"  rather  than  merely  "indicating"  objects, 
simply  because  all  sciences,  arts,  myths,  etc.  would  have  to  be 
taken  as  illustrating  this  general  contention.  We  must  distin- 
guish here  two  aspects  of  this  contention:  (i)  That  all  the 
above-listed  "domains  of  objectivity"  do  indeed  presuppose 
the  employment  of  symbols,  and  (2)  That  there  is  no  objec- 
tivity outside  the  contexts  established  by  these  various  domains. 
As  regards  the  latter  aspect,  its  acceptance  follows  from 
Cassirer's  endorsement  of  what  he  took  to  be  Kant's  trans- 
cendental method.  Could  Kant  prove  the  adequacy  of  this 
method  by  the  use  he  made  of  it  with  respect  to  "experience  as 
science?"  The  answer  may  be  in  the  affirmative,  if  one  keeps  in 
mind  the  state  of  the  mathematical  and  physical  disciplines  with 
which  he  was  familiar.  As  a  contemporary  writer  has  put  it:  "In 
relation  to  his  information  Kant's  intuition  of  Euclid's  axioms 
is  unobjectionable.  .  .  .  Without  the  aid  of  Einstein's  conception 
of  a  curved  physical  space,  we  should  not  conclude  that  Kant 
is  altogether  wrong."20  The  answer  may  be  in  the  negative,  if 
one  considers  that  Kant  presented  his  "forms"  of  intuition  and 
understanding  as  immutable  human  faculties,  and  took  them  to 
be  as  final  as  Aristotelian  logic,  Euclidean  geometry,  and  New- 
tonian physics  were  thought  to  be  necessary.  But,  whatever  be 
one's  evaluation  of  Kant's  position,  this  much  of  it  is  never 
questioned  by  Cassirer,  namely  that  the  determinateness  with 
which  we  experience  the  "objective"  world  is  never  passively 
received  ab  extra,  but  that  it  is,  in  principle,  analyzable  as 
"conditioned"  by  acts  of  synthesizing  the  manifold  given  in  per- 

20  Andrew  P.  Ushenko,  Power  and  Events,  xv. 


86  CARL  H.  HAMBURG 

ception.  What  Kant  had  maintained  was  that  there  can  be  no 
objectivity  in  the  physical  sense  without  assumption  of  the 
synthesizing  forms  laid  down  by  the  Transcendental  Analytic. 
This  point  is  generalized  by  Cassirer  to  include  other  than 
physical  domains,  to  be  accounted  for  by  types  of  synthesis 
other  than  those  listed  in  the  first  Kritik.  That  aspect  of  Cas- 
sirer's  general  contention,  then,  according  to  which  there  can 
be  no  objectivity  outside  the  contexts  established  by  the  sciences, 
arts,  myths,  etc.,  instead  of  being  explicitly  demonstrated, 
constitutes  his  basic  philosophical  commitment  to  Kant's  view- 
point. 

Regarding  the  other  aspect  of  his  thesis,  viz.,  that  all  the 
contexts  within  which  such  objectivity  is  encountered,  are  to 
be  taken  as  sign-systems,  in  so  far  as  all  of  them  imply  specific 
evaluations  of  the  "same"  sensory  data,  on  what  evidence  are 
we  to  accept  it?  Or  better:  what  sort  of  evidence  is  possible  for 
this  contention  within  the  commitment  to  Kant's  position  as 
indicated?  With  respect  to  Kant's  inquiry  it  is  maintained  by 
Cassirer  that  he  aimed  to  develop  the  epistemological  conse- 
quences from  the  facts  of  the  sciences  with  which  he  was  fa- 
miliar. It  was  their  actual  employment  of  "judgments"  both 
related  to  experience  (synthetic)  and  yet  necessary  (a  priori) 
which  seemed  to  Kant  to  demand  a  revision  of  both  the 
empiricist  and  the  rationalist  pronouncements  with  respect  to 
the  character  of  human  knowledge.  In  the  stage  at  which  he 
analyzed  it,  it  could  be  said  that  his  analysis  was  adequate  for 
science  as  he  knew  it.  Kant,  in  other  words,  was  not  concerned 
with  adducing  evidence  that  there  are  synthetic  judgments  a 
priori — the  evidence  for  their  actual  employment  being  taken 
to  issue  from  an  impartial  examination  of  the  sciences  them- 
selves. It  was  but  their  "possibility"  that  Kant  felt  had  to  be 
accounted  for  by  making  those  necessary  presuppositions  about 
human  cognition  through  mediation  of  which  science — as  a  re- 
sult of  the  activation  of  that  cognition — would  become  intelligi- 
ble. Consequently,  these  presuppositions,  the  forms  of  intuition 
and  understanding,  are  not  the  evidence  from  which  the  syn- 
thetic a  priori  judgments  of  the  scientist  are  thought  to  be 
derivable,  but  the  sciences  themselves  are  taken  as  the  evidence 


CONCEPTION  OF  PHILOSOPHY  87 

that  justifies  and  postulates  the  epistemological  characterization 
of  the  "mind"  with  which  the  first  Kritik  is  concerned. 

This  brief  reminder  serves  to  explain  Cassirer's  analogous 
conviction  that  his  theory  of  the  symbolically-mediate  character 
of  reality,  far  from  standing  in  need  of  ingenious  philosophical 
demonstrations,  merely  formulates,  on  a  level  of  highest  gen- 
erality, a  semiotic  function  which,  in  various  modifications,  is 
assumed  as  a  matter  of  fact  by  all  who,  within  the  legitimate 
contexts  of  their  respective  branches  of  investigation,  inquire 
into  the  nature  of  physical,  artistic,  religious,  and  perceptual 
"objects."  A  re-examination  of  this  evidence  in  the  light  of 
more  recent  developments  in  the  mathematical,  physical,  psy- 
chological, linguistic,  religious  and  anthropological  researches 
considered  by  Cassirer,  would  be  both  surpassing  the  compe- 
tency of  one  inquirer  and  not  be  to  the  immediate  purpose. 

For  the  remainder  of  this  section,  it  will  be  our  chief  concern 
to  elucidate  how  the  symbol-concept  must  be  understood  in 
order  to  warrant  the  universal  use  and  significance  which 
Cassirer  attributes  to  it.  Before  proceeding  to  this  task,  however, 
note  that — rightfully  or  not — Cassirer  did  take  for  granted  its 
actual  employment,  not  just  in  the  analysis  of  the  various 
disciplines,  but  in  the  very  construction  of  the  domains  to  which 
these  analyses  refer.  In  support  of  this  contention,  we  point  to 
the  following: 

(i)  Early  in  the  first  volume  of  the  Philosofhie  der  sym- 
bolischen  Formeny  where  Cassirer  prepares  for  the  introduction 
of  the  symbolic-form  concept,  he  raises  the  question  ".  .  . 
whether  there  is  indeed  for  the  manifold  directions  of  the 
spirit ...  a  mediating  function,  and  whether,  if  so,  this  function 
has  any  typical  characteristics  by  means  of  which  it  can  be 
known  and  described."21  Yet,  although  it  is  a  foregone  con- 
clusion that  such  a  "mediating  function"  must  be  ascribed  to 
the  symbol-concept,  Cassirer,  instead  of  presenting  specific 
arguments  for  this  core  idea,  immediately  goes  on  to  say:  "We 
go  back  for  an  answer  to  this  question  to  the  symbol-concept  as 
Heinrich  Herz  has  postulated  and  characterized  it  from  the 
point  of  view  of  physical  knowledge."  (ibid.)  As  soon  as  the 

11  PSF,  Vol.  1, 1 6. 


88  CARL  H.  HAMBURG 

question  is  raised,  in  other  words,  whether  there  is  a  function 
both  more  general  and  flexible  than,  e.g.,  the  concepts  of 
"spirit"  and  "reason,"  elaborated  by  traditional  philosophy,  the 
answer,  in  the  form  of  the  proposed  symbol-concept,  is  not 
argued  for  at  all  but  is  presented  as  being  actually  effective  and 
recognized  as  such  by  Herz  with  respect  to  physical  science, 
and  such  other  thinkers  as  Hilbert  (mathematical  logic),  Hum- 
boldt  (comparative  linguistics),  Helmholtz  (physiological 
optics),  and  Herder  (religion  and  poetry). 

(2)  In  1936,  the  Swedish  philosopher  Konrad  Marc-Wogau 
had  commented  upon  certain  difficulties  he  found  inherent  in 
Cassirer's  various  versions  of  the  symbol-concept.  In  a  re- 
joinder to  these  objections,  Cassirer  makes  this  very  character- 
istic statement:  "In  his  criticism,  Marc-Wogau  seems  to  have 
overlooked  this  one  point,  namely  that  the  reflections  to  which 
he  objects,  are  in  no  way  founded  upon  purely  speculative  con- 
siderations but  that  they  are  actually  related  to  specific,  concrete 
problems  and  to  concrete  matters  of  fact."22  It  is  significant  that, 
here  again,  where  the  "logic  of  the  symbol-concept"  has  been 
challenged,  Cassirer  makes  no  attempt  to  take  up  his  critic's 
suggestions  on  the  same  analytical  level  on  which  they  were 
made,  but,  instead,  goes  on  to  cite  a  variety  of  instances  (drawn 
from  psychology,  linguistics,  mathematics,  and  physics)  for 
which  outstanding  representatives  have  emphasized  the  sym- 
bolical character  of  their  respective  subject-matters. 

Strange  as  this  attitude  may  appear  to  those  who  would  ex- 
pect an  original  philosophy  to  develop  and  reason  from  its  own 
axioms,  it  is  only  consistent  in  the  light  of  the  above-mentioned 
transcendental  orientation  in  which  Cassirer  read  and  accepted 
Kant.  The  thesis,  accordingly,  that  the  mind  (Bewusstsein, 
Geist)  is  symbolically  active  in  the  construction  of  all  its  uni- 
verses of  perception  and  discourse  is  not  suggested  as  a  dis- 
covery to  be  made  by  or  to  be  grounded  upon  specifically  philo- 
sophical arguments.  Instead  of  presupposing  insights  different 
from  and  requiring  cognitive  powers  or  techniques  superior  to 
those  accessible  to  empirical  science,  the  thesis  is  developed  as 

iat   (Tidskrift  for  Filosofi  och  Psykologi.)  II,  158. 


CONCEPTION  OF  PHILOSOPHY  89 

issuing  from  an  impartial  reading  of  the  scientific  evidence  in  all 
branches  of  investigation. 

Certain  difficulties  about  such  a  position  could  perhaps  be 
felt  from  the  outset.  It  may  be  questioned,  for  instance,  whether 
scientific  situations  could  be  encountered  at  any  time  which 
would  give  univocal  testimony  to  the  symbolically-mediate 
character  of  both  their  methods  and  their  subject-matters.  One 
may  also  wonder  whether  the  scientific  crown-witnesses  (on 
whom  Cassirer  relies  so  heavily),  when  reflecting  upon  the 
symbolic  nature  of  their  domains,  do  so  qua  scientists,  or 
whether,  when  so  reflecting,  they  must  be  considered  philo- 
sophical rather  than  scientific  spokesmen  for  their  disciplines. 
Finally,  a  philosophy  resting  its  case  squarely  on  the  evidence  of 
not  just  one  (especially  reliable)  science,  but  of  all  the  sciences 
— including  all  religious  and  imaginative  sense-making  as 
within  the  province  of  what  Cassirer  calls  "Kulturwissen- 
schajten" — seems  dangerously  committed  to  generalize  upon 
enterprises  notorious  for  their  proneness  to  scrap  both  their  own 
theories  and  attendant  philosophical  explanations  of  their 
theories. 

Considerations  of  this  type  need  not  be  fatal,  however,  to 
a  philosophy  thus  far  considered.  A  philosophical  reading  of 
the  evidence  of  the  sciences  will  indeed  not  face  "univocal  situa- 
tions." Nor  will  such  situations  be  encountered  within  any 
other  inquiry.  The  cognitive  enterprise,  whether  in  the  form 
of  large  philosophical  generalizations,  or  of  the  more  readily 
controlled  scientific  generalizations,  is  admittedly  guided  by 
hypotheses  and  thus  does  imply  decisions  with  respect  to  the  data 
that  are  considered  relevant  for  their  respective  generalizations. 
The  further  contention  that  the  methodological  testimony  of 
the  scientists  cannot  be  credited  with  the  same  respectability  as 
his  methodological  effectiveness  also  need  not  be  damaging  to  a 
philosophy  whose  center  of  gravity  is  determined  by  the  scien- 
tist's findings.  Any  philosophy,  one  could  say,  which  is  pro- 
posed as  a  critique  and  mediation  of  symbolisms,  must  obviously 
do  justice  to  the  most  reliably  constructed  symbol-systems  of 
the  sciences  and,  in  doing  that,  it  can  hardly  afford  to  disregard 
the  statements  on  method  merely  because  they  come  from  some- 


90  CARL  H.  HAMBURG 

body  who  employs  them  successfully.  At  any  rate,  an  adequate 
interpretation  of  the  scientific  symbolisms  always  requires  atten- 
tion to  both  the  factual  and  the  (methodo-)  logical  subject- 
matters,  and  there  does  not  seem  to  be  any  Qrima  -facie  evidence 
why  the  method-conscious  scientist  is  to  be  trusted  less  in  this 
connection  than  the  science-versed  philosopher.  The  objection, 
finally,  that  any  philosophy  whose  ambition  it  is  to  bring  into 
conformity  its  account  of  "reality"  with  the  latest  results  of 
the  sciences  is  doomed  to  "eternalize"  highly  contingent 
validity-claims,  need  likewise  not  endanger  the  position  taken 
by  Cassirer.  It  would  be  the  alternative  to  the  self-corrective 
character  of  the  evidence  trusted  by  him  that  would  be  fatal  to 
any  philosophy.  The  ambition  to  make  final  pronouncements, 
to  issue  once-and-for-all  "truths/'  is  certainly  not  germane  to  a 
thought-system  which,  by  Kantian  orientation,  is  not  straining 
to  lay  hold  upon  a  final  reality-structure,  but  which  is  advanced 
frankly  as  an  attempt  to  discharge  the  "culture-mission"  of 
mediating  the  reality-accounts  offered  by  the  various  cultural 
disciplines. 

We  must  conclude  therefore:  the  thesis  that  all  contexts  (in 
which  we — objectively — have  a  world,  structure,  domain  of 
reality)  may  be  analyzed  as  differently  oriented  symbolic  evalu- 
ations of  the  perceptive  data,  is  offered  as  evidenced  by  all  the 
inquiries  made  of  these  contexts.  As  such,  the  thesis  is  sug- 
gested as  a  generalization  upon  the  pervasive  features  of  the 
artistic,  religious,  and  scientific  domains,  guided  by  Kant's 
transcendental  hypothesis  that  the  pervasive  features  of  all 
experience  cannot  be  prior  to  and  independent  of  the  synthesiz- 
ing activities  of  a  symbol-minded  consciousness  which  has  and 
reflects  upon  them. 

What  Cassirer  never  tires  of  attributing  to  Kant  is  the  latter's 
"Revolution  der  Denkarty"  by  which  philosophers  were  freed 
from  having  to  attain  a  reality  more  profound  (or  more  im- 
mediate) than  the  only  one  given  in  experience,  either  as  en- 
countered or  as  reflected  upon  by  the  only  valid  methods  of 
scientific  synthesizing.  Instead  of  undertaking — in  the  fashion 
of  ontological  metaphysics — to  determine  fixed  traits  of  being, 
the  transcendental  method  would  bid  us  to  examine  the  types 


CONCEPTION  OF  PHILOSOPHY  91 

of  judgments  which  logically  condition  whatever  may  validly 
be  asserted  as  "objective."  The  "objectivity,"  however,  with 
which  the  first  Kritik  furnishes  us,  actually  turns  out  to  be  an 
exclusively  "physical"  one.  The  transcendental  method,  as  used 
in  the  Kritik,  has  not  provided  us — Cassirer  thinks — with  the 
clue  for  "Objektivitat  uberhauyt"  but  specifically  with  just 
one  type  of  objectivity,  viz.,  the  one  that  may  be  formulated 
within  the  system  of  principles  constitutive  of  Newtonian 
physics.23 

In  brief:  what  Cassirer  accepts  of  Kant  is  the  transcendental 
method  which,  instead  of  revealing  immutable  structures  of 
Being,  inquires  into  the  culturally  given  "fact"  of  science  and, 
"being  concerned  not  with  objects  but  with  our  mode  of  know- 
ing objects,"24  makes  for  a  more  flexible  analysis  of  experience 
by  allowing  for  different  types  of  "objectivity,"  comprehended 
as  corresponding  to  different  "modes  of  knowing."  In  Cassirer's 
version:  "The  decisive  question  is  always  whether  we  attempt  to 
understand  function  in  terms  of  structure  or  vice  versa. . , .  The 
basic  principle  of  all  critical  thinking — the  principle  of  the  pri- 
macy of  the  function  before  the  object — assumes  a  new  form  in 
each  discipline  and  requires  a  new  foundation."28  Cassirer's 
position  implies  both  an  acceptance  of  Kant's  methodological 
strictures  and  a  demand  for  a  wider  application  of  the  "critical 
method."  More  specifically:  Kant's  method  was  to  limit  the 
philosopher's  concern  to  an  elucidation  of  the  mode  of  knowing 
governing  "reality"  as  scientifically  accessible.  It  was,  in  conse- 
quence, to  deny  him  the  right  of  engaging  in  ontological  pur- 
suits, i.e.,  to  discover  or  construct  "realities,"  offered  as  "meta- 
physical," apprehension  of  which  would  involve  an  employment 
of  cognitive  powers  superior  to  those  certified  by  the  first 
Kritik  as  "constitutive"  of  (or  regulative  for)  experience,  i.e., 
of  science  as  the  only  legitimate  inquiry  through  which  the 
permanent  structure  of  this  experience  may  be  known. 

23  We  are  concerned  here  merely  with  Kant's  attempt  to  formulate  his  "Grund- 
satze"  in  conformity  with  Newtonian  physics,  not  with  the  success  of  this  attempt. 
On  this  point,  see  A.  Pap:  The  Afriori  in  Physical  Theory,  Pt.  II.  King's  Crown 
Press,  1946. 

a<  Immanuel  Kant,  Kritik  der  reinen  Vernunft,  "Einleitung,"  Par.  VII. 


92  CARL  H.  HAMBURG 

If  then  the  philosopher — qua  cognitor,  not  qua  moralizer — 
was  to  be  restricted  to  an  examination  of  the  source,  scope  and 
validity  of  the  "mode  of  knowing"  that  makes  possible  experi- 
ence as  science,  or  if,  in  Cassirer's  extended  version,  he  is  to  be 
restricted  to  an  examination  of  all  the  various  modes  of  knowing 
and  comprehending  that  make  possible  experience,  however 
structured  (as  science,  or  myth,  art,  religion,  or  common  sense), 
the  issue  of  highest  philosophical  universality  will  logically  arise 
as  one  of  attempting  to  reduce  the  variety  of  such  distinguish- 
able modes  to  so  many  comparable  instances  of  one  fundamental 
function.  And  such  a  function  would  at  once  have  to  be  general 
enough  to  characterize  all  modes  of  knowing  and  comprehend- 
ing through  which  experience  is  realized  as  structured,  and  yet 
permit  of  all  the  differentiations  that  specifically  modify  the 
various  cultural  media  for  which  it  must  account.  Now,  it  is 
Cassirer's  contention  that,  historically,  philosophy  both  aimed 
and  fell  short  of  elaborating  principles  of  such  high  generality 
that  would,  on  the  one  hand,  be  valid  for  all  domains  and,  on 
the  other,  be  susceptible  of  modifications  characteristic  of  the 
specific  differences  distinguishing  these  domains.  Before  turning 
to  a  closer  examination  of  the  symbol-concept  which,  Cassirer 
believes,  satisfies  the  requirements  of  such  a  universal  yet 
modifiable  function,  it  is  significant  to  note  here  that  Cassirer 
conceives  of  his  own  efforts  as  within  the  general  direction  of 
what  philosophers,  with  varying  degrees  of  awareness  and  suc- 
cess, have  always  striven  for.  In  this  connection,  Cassirer  has 
spoken  of  both  the  "culture-mission"  of  philosophy  and  the 
"antinomies  of  the  culture-concept."  By  the  latter,  reference  is 
made  to  the  characteristic  conflicts  that  arise  as  the  various 
cultural  media  of  religion,,  art,  language,  and  science  tend  to  set 
off  their  special  domains  by  claiming  superiority  of  insight  for 
their  respective  perspectives.  Thus,  although  the  first  cosmo- 
logical  and  physical  scientists  everywhere  started  out  from  the 
distinctions  and  discriminations  made  by  common  sense  and 
reflected  by  language,  they  soon  opposed  to  this  basic  fund  of 
accumulated  knowledge  specifically  new  principles  of  division, 
a  new  "logos33  from  the  vantage-point  of  which  all  non-scientific 


CONCEPTION  OF  PHILOSOPHY  93 

knowledge  appeared  as  a  mere  distortion  of  "the  truth. "  Simil- 
arly, while  both  art  and  religion  in  their  early  stages  developed 
closely  together,  if  not  at  times  in  actual  interpenetration, 
further  development  of  these  two  cultural  media  resulted  in 
either  of  them  claiming  superior  vision  and  closer  approxima- 
tion to  the  "really  real"  as  over  against  the  other.  Instead  of 
contenting  themselves  with  the  specific  insights  which  they 
afford,  the  various  cultural  disciplines  tend — Cassirer  points  out 
— to  impose  the  characteristic  form  of  their  interpretation  upon 
the  totality  of  being,  and  it  is  from  this  tendency  towards  the 
"absolute,"  inherent  in  each  one  of  them,  that  there  issue  the  con- 
flicts that  Cassirer  considers  "antinominal"  within  the  culture- 
concept.  Yet,  although  it  is  in  intellectual  conflicts  of  this  type 
that  one  would  expect  philosophy,  as  a  reflection  on  the  highest 
level  of  universality,  to  mediate  among  the  various  claims,  the 
different  "dogmatic  systems  of  metaphysics  satisfy  this  expecta- 
tion and  demand  only  imperfectly}  they  themselves  are  im- 
mersed in  this  struggle  and  do  not  stand  above  it."26  Upon 
analysis,  it  is  suggested,  most  philosophical  systems  turn  out 
to  be  merely  so  many  hypostatizations  of  a  particular  logical, 
ethical,  esthetical,  or  religious  orientation. 

We  have  briefly  adduced  these  considerations  because  it  is 
against  their  background  that  one  can  understand  the  impor- 
tance Cassirer  attributes  to  his  own  "philosophy  of  symbolic 
forms,"  which  is  presented  as  having  a  chance  of  succeeding 
where  all  former  "systems"  could  only  failj  not  in  the  sense, 
to  be  sure,  that  it  holds  the  key  to  all  the  problems  that  have  or 
will  come  up,  but  in  the  sense,  nevertheless,  that  with  the 
symbol-concept  it  puts  at  the  philosopher's  disposal  an  intel- 
lectual instrument  of  greatest  universality  and  modifiability.  As 
such,  it  is  commended  as  impartially  comprehending  all  "do- 
mains of  reality"  as  of  a  determinable,  symbolically-mediate 
type  for  which  philosophical  analysis  may  indicate  their  specific 
modalities  of  sign-functioning,  instead  of  super-imposing  one 
privileged  modality  of  meaning  (logical,  esthetic,  ethical,  etc.) 
with  respect  to  which  all  other  "visions"  are  reduced  to  mere 

*PSF,VoL  I,  13. 


94  CARL  H.  HAMBURG 

approximations  and  appearances   (at  best),  or  illusions   (at 
worst). 

c.  Exposition  of  the  Symbol-Concept 

We  have  considered  so  far  the  epistemological  setting  within 
which  Cassirer's  thesis  is  developed.  We  have  listed  what,  we 
believe,  represent  three  essentially  distinct  senses  in  which  the 
symbolic-form  concept  is  employed,  and  we  have  contrasted  it 
from  both  the  usually  agreed  upon  view,  according  to  which 
knowledge-as-mediate  is  indeed  taken  as  "symbolical,"  and 
from  the  more  current  behavioristic  position,  according  to  which 
the  pervasive  character  of  sign-situations  is  interpretable  as  in- 
volving objects  which — as  signs — indicate  the  presence  (or  the 
conditions  for  the  realization  of  the  presence)  of  other  objects- 
as-signified.  We  have  then  attempted  to  render  meaningful 
Cassirer's  contradistinction  from  this  position  by  stressing  that 
his  concern  is  with  symbols,  taken  not  as  "indications"  but  as 
"organs  of  reality."  Interpreting  "organs  of  reality"  in  a  sense 
termed  "transcendental"  by  Kant,  we  could  say  that  Cassirer's 
type  of  inquiry  constitutes  a  most  erudite  attempt  to  provide 
evidence  for  the  thesis  that  no  empirical  "reality"  (objectivity, 
structure)  can  be  meaningfully  referred  to  except  under  the 
implicit  presupposition  of  the  symbolic  (constitutive)  "forms" 
of  space,  time,  cause,  number,  etc.  and  the  symbolic  (cultural) 
"forms"  of  myth,  common  sense  (language),  art,  and  science, 
which  furnish  the  contexts  (Sinnzusammenhange)  within  which 
alone  "reality"  is  both  encounterable  and  accountable. 

We  must  now  examine  more  closely  exactly  what  is  asserted 
when  it  is  said  of  the  constitutive  and  cultural  "forms"  which 
condition  "reality,"  however  accounted,  that  they  are  "sym- 
bolical." For  this  purpose,  let  us  go  back  to  the  already  stated 
definition  of  the  symbol-concept,  according  to  which  "it  is  to 
cover  the  totality  of  all  those  phenomena  which  exhibit  in  what- 
ever form  'sense  in  the  senses'  (Sinnerfiillung  im  Sinnlicheri) 
and  all  contexts  in  which  something  'sensuous* — by  being  what 
it  is  (in  der  Art  seines  Da-Seins  und  So-Seins} — is  represented 
as  a  particular  embodiment  as  a  manifestation  and  incarnation 
of  a  meaning."27  According  to  this  passage,  the  symbol-concept 

"PSF,  Vol.  Ill,  109. 


CONCEPTION  OF  PHILOSOPHY  95 

would  apply  to  all  contexts  in  which  a  "sensuous"  moment  may 
be  distinguished  from  a  "sense"  moment,  with  the  proviso 
that  a  relation  holds  with  respect  to  these  two  terms  which  is 
most  frequently  referred  to  as  "one  representing  the  other." 
For  Cassirer  (as  for  most  other  philosophers)  the  term  "senses" 
covers  all  perceptual  cues  which — such  as  colors,  sounds,  etc. — 
suffice  to  act  as  vehicles  for  any  and  all  meaning,  where  "mean- 
ing" covers  all  the  embodiments  to  which  the  senses  are  amen- 
able as  related  to  an  interpreter  of  these  cues,  i.e.,  to  the  full 
complexity  of  perspectives  which  the  term  "interpreter"  (Gei$ty 
Bewusstsein)  suggests.  To  realize  yet  more  distinctly  what  both 
the  "senses"  and  the  "sense"  (meaning)  connote  in  this  defini- 
tion, we  must  attempt  further  to  clarify  the  relation  that  is  sup- 
posed to  hold  between  the  two  terms,  if  they  are  to  function 
symbolically.  This  relation,  we  suggest,  is  taken  by  Cassirer 
both  in  a  polar  and  a  correlative  sense. 

( i )  The  polarity  of  "sense"  and  "senses." 

Stressing  the  polarity  of  this  relation,  Cassirer  states  suc- 
cinctly that  "the  symbolic  function  is  composed  of  moments 
which  are  different  in  principle.  No  genuine  meaning  (Sinn)  as 
such  is  simple,  but  it  is  one  and  double — and  this  polarity,  which 
is  intrinsic  to  it,  does  not  tear  it  asunder  and  destroy  it,  but 
instead  represents  its  proper  function."28 

This  function,  we  may  say,  establishes  a  relation  between  the 
"senses" — as  signs — and  the  "sense" — as  signified  by  them — in 
such  a  way  that  these  two  terms  must  be  conceived  as  polar, 
opposite  and  (potentially,  if  not  actually)  distinguishable  from 
each  other.  This  polar  distinction  of  the  two  symbol-moments, 
as  maintained  by  Cassirer,  can  be  read  from  a  variety  of  pro- 
nouncements made  by  him  apropos  the  three  modal  forms, 
termed  respectively:  the  expression-function  (Ausdrucksfank- 
tiori)\  the  intuition-function  (Anschauungsjunktion)  and  the 
and  the  conceptual-function  (reine  Bedeutungsjunktion).  Space 
forbids  even  a  selective  reproduction  of  the  illustrative  material 
offered  by  Cassirer.  The  gist  of  the  matter  will  be  intelligible, 
however,  if  the  following  points  are  kept  in  mind. 

*PSF,  Vol.  Ill,  1 10. 


96  CARL  H.  HAMBURG 

a.  If  the  representative  relation  between  the  senses  and  their 
sense  is  of  an  expressive  type  (of  which  myth,  art,  and  the  reali- 
zation of  "persons"  are  taken  as  instances),  "reality"  is  had  as 
a  universe  of  "characters,"  with  all  events  in  it  having  physiog- 
nomic traits  and  all  manifestation  of  sense  through  the  senses 
being  restricted  to  what  is  expressible  in  terms  of  man's  emotive, 
affective  (evaluational)  system.  Where  the  "world,"  in  other 
words,  is  taken  in  its  primary  expression-values,  all  of  its  phe- 
nomena manifest  a  specific  character  which  belongs  to  them  in  an 
immediate  and  spontaneous  fashion.  Cassirer's  description  of 
these  "expression-phenomena"  as  "being  inherently  sombre  or 
cheerful,  exciting  or  appeasing,  frightening  or  reassuring"29 
parallels  Dewey's  account,  e.g.,  according  to  which  "empiri- 
cally, things  are  poignant,  tragic,  settled,  disturbed  .  . .  are  such 
immediately  and  in  their  own  right  and  behalf  .  .  .  any  quality 
is  at  once  initial  and  terminal."30  It  would  therefore  be  a  mis- 
reading of  what  Cassirer  terms  the  "reine  Ausdrucksphaenom- 
ene"  if  they  were  taken  to  issue  from  secondary  acts  of  inter- 
pretation, as  products  of  an  act  of  "empathy."  The  basic  error 
of  such  an  "explanation"  would  consist  in  the  fact  that  it  re- 
verses the  order  of  what  is  phenomenally  given.  This  interpre- 
tation "must  kill  the  character  of  perception,  it  must  reduce  it 
to  a  mere  complex  of  sensory  data  of  impression  in  order  to  then 
revive  the  dead  matter  of  impression  by  an  act  of  empathy."31 
What  is  overlooked  in  the  empathy-theories  is  that,  in  order  to 
get  at  the  sensory  data  (the  hot  and  cold,  the  hard  and  soft,  the 
colors,  sounds,  etc.),  we  must  already  disregard  and  abstract 
from  the  expressive  "Urfhaenomene?*  in  which  a  "world"  is 
had  prior  to  the  working  out  of  the  various  representative 
schemes  and  conceptual  frameworks  to  which  it  subsequently 
submits.  What  typifies  an  expression-phenomenon,  we  conclude, 
is  that,  whereas  it  possesses  specific  (immediate,  non-derivative) 
meanings  not  realized — on  the  perceptual  level — as  distinct 
from  the  sensuous  vehicles  with  which  they  go  "hand  in  hand," 
it  must  still  be  recognized  as  an  instance  of  a  symbolic  function, 


,  Vol.  Ill,  85. 
30  Experience  and  Nature,  96. 
nPSF,  Vol.  Ill,  85. 


CONCEPTION  OF  PHILOSOPHY  97 

in  so  far  as  subsequent  analysis,  on  the  level  of  reflection,  will 
make  what  Cassirer  considers  a  "polar  distinction"  between  its 
two  constitutive  moments  which,  as  the  sign  (senses)  and  the 
signified  (sense)  define  that  function. 

b.  The  polarity  between  these  two  moments  is  encountered 
in  a  more  developed  form  in  the  intuitive  mode  of  the  symbolic 
function,  for  which  a  perception  is  not  merely  taken  as  a  qualita- 
tive presence  (Praesenz)  but  as  a  cue  for  the  representation  of 
something  else. 

The  construction  of  our  perceptive  world  begins  with  such  acts  of  divid- 
ing up  the  ever-flowing  series  of  sensuous  phenomena.  In  the  midst  of 
this  steady  flux  of  phenomena  there  are  retained  certain  determinate 
(perceptive)  units  which,  from  now  on,  serve  as  fixed  centers  of  orien- 
tation. The  particular  phenomenon  could  not  have  any  characteristic 
meaning  except  if  thus  referred  to  those  centers.  All  further  progress  of 
objective  knowledge,  all  clarification  and  determination  of  our  percep- 
tive world  depends  upon  this  ever  progressing  development.32 

The  passage  from  the  expression-mode  to  the  intuition-mode 
of  "making  sense  in  the  senses"  is  described  by  Cassirer  as  a  de- 
velopment in  which  progressively  an  organization  of  the  sensory 
flux  is  brought  about  by  singling  out  certain  data,  realized  as 
comparatively  constant,  significant  or  relevant  for  action,  by 
operating,  in  brief,  a  division  of  the  perceptually  given  into 
"presentative"  and  "representative"  moments.83  Now,  the 
selective  and  organizing  office  of  sensory  perception  has  been 
noted  by  both  scientists  and  philosophers  for  some  time.  If  a 
symbolic  interpretation  is  put  upon  whatever  evidence  exists  for 
this  fact,  it  is  because  such  "selectivity"  entails  a  distinction  of 
the  constant  from  the  variable,  of  the  necessary  from  the  con- 
tingent, of  the  general  from  the  particular,  distinctions,  in 
brief,  which,  for  Cassirer,  "imply  the  very  source  of  all  objecti- 
fication."34  And  it  is  to  language  that  we  are  referred  as  both 
the  outstanding  agency  which  establishes  the  basic  objectifying 
distinctions  and  the  medium  which  reflects  the  "foci  of  atten- 

"PSF,Vol.  Ill,  165. 

88  This,  of  course,  is  a  metaphorical,  not  a  genetic  account.  A  "flux"  prior  to 
any  and  all  "organization"  is  a  contrary-to-fact  abstraction, 
"PSF,  Vol.  Ill,  1 80. 


98  CARL  H.  HAMBURG 

tion,"  the  "perspectives"  which  condition  whatever  discrimina- 
tion is  exercised  when  some  (rather  than  other)  perceptions  are 
taken  to  "represent"  the  quasi-permanent  units  as  which,  on  the 
intuition-mode,  we  have  the  world  as  organized  in  spatio- 
temporal  "things-with-properties."  Skipping  at  this  point 
further  consideration  of  the  evidence  adduced  by  Cassirer  for 
this  view,85  what  matters  for  the  present  purpose  is  that  the 
intuition-mode  of  symbolic  representation  is  conceived  as  in- 
volving, besides  the  sensory  data,  an  "original  mode  of  sight" 
(eine  eigene  Weise  der  Sicht)  and  that  both  these  moments  are 
said  to  stand  in  a  polar  relationship  to  each  other  in  so  far  as  the 
"sight,"  the  "perspective,"  as  something  posited  (em  Seteungs- 
modus),  is  not  reducible  to  or  constructible  from  the  sensory 
data  which  it  "sees."  Cassirer  argues  in  this  connection  against 
both  rationalist  and  empiricist  epistemologies  which,  regardless 
how  differently  they  provide  answers  to  the  question  of  the 
"relation  of  our  perceptions  to  an  object,"  take  the  same  basic 
course  in  explaining  this  relation  either  in  terms  of  "associa- 
tions" and  "reproductions"  or  in  terms  of  judgments  and  "un- 
conscious inferences."  "What  is  overlooked  in  either  approach 
is  the  circumstance  that  all  psychological  or  logical  processes  to 
which  one  has  recourse  come  rather  too  late.  .  .  .  No  associative 
connection  of  them  can  explain  that  original  Setzungsmodus, 
according  to  which  an  impression  (taken  representatively) 
stands  for  something  'objective'."36  The  intuition-mode  of  the 
symbol  function  is  proposed  therefore  as  both  an  original  and 
ultimate  mode  of  sight  which,  although  inseparable  from  the 
sensory  impressions  which  it  seesy  must  be  distinguished  from 
them  as  sharply  as  the  dimensions  of  "meaning"  (sense)  from 
the  dimension  of  "signs"  (senses). 

c.  The  polar  relation  between  the  sensuous-  and  the  sense- 
moments  is  even  more  readily  realized  in  Cassirer's  discussion 
of  the  theoretical  mode  of  the  symbol  function.  Within  this 

88  In  his  Die  Sprache  und  der  Aufbau  der  Gegenstandswelt,  Jena,  1932  (sec 
Bibliography  for  translations) .  Also  in  the  Philosofhie  der  symbolischen  Formen, 
Language  and  Myth>  and  "The  Concept  of  Group  and  the  Theory  of  Perception," 
(Journal  of  Philosophy  and  Phenomenological  Research,  Vol.  V,  1944,  1-35.) 

86  PSF,  Vol.  Ill,  148. 


CONCEPTION  OF  PHILOSOPHY  99 

dimension,  also  referred  to  as  the  "level  of  cognition,"  there 
obtains,  as  within  the  expression-  and  the  intuition-modes,  an 
organization  and  determination  of  sensory  data,  with  this  dif- 
ference, however,  that  now  "the  moments  which  condition  the 
order  and  structure  of  the  perceptual  world  are  grasped  as  such 
and  recognized  in  their  specific  significance.  The  relations  which, 
on  the  former  levels,  were  established  implicitly  (in  der  Form 
blosser  Mitgegebenheit)  are  now  explicated."37 

This  "explication,"  proceeding  by  way  of  an  abstractive  iso- 
lation of  the  relations  which,  while  applicable  to  perception, 
are,  in  principle,  of  a  non-perceptual  character,  is  evidenced, 
"writ  large"  so  to  speak,  in  the  constructive  schemata,  the  con- 
ventional systems  of  conventional  signs  by  mediation  of  which 
scientific  knowledge  is  attained.  A  considerably  detailed  demon- 
stration of  this  thesis  was  given  by  Cassirer  long  before  the 
development  of  his  philosophy  of  symbolic  forms.  His  con- 
tention that  all  scientific  concept-formation  is  definable  as  an 
ever  more  precise  application  of  relational  thinking  was  first 
presented  in  his  influential  Substanzbegriff  und  Funktionsbe- 
griff  (1910)  and  reasserted  in  the  concluding  sections  of  his 
"Phaenomenologie  der  Erkenntnis"  (PSF,  Vol.  III.)  where 
recent  developments  (until  1929)  of  the  mathematical  and 
physical  sciences  are  considered  in  confirmation  of  this  thesis. 
What  is  established  by  the  scientific  concept  is  referred  to  vari- 
ously as  a  "function,"  a  "principle,"  a  "law  of  a  series,"  a  "rule" 
or  "form,"  where  all  these  terms  are  employed  with  the  same 
connotation  which  his  early  work  had  given  them,  i.e.,  as  ex- 
pressing relations  between  (terms  designating)  phenomena. 
"To  'comprehend  conceptually'  and  to  'establish  relations'  turn 
out — upon  closer  logical  and  epistemological  analysis — to  be 
always  correlative  notions."38  Instead  of  defining  the  concept 
as  extensively  determining  a  class,  having  members,  it  is  main- 
tained that  theoretical  concepts 

always  contain  reference  to  an  exact  serial  principle  that  enables  us  to 
connect  the  manifold  of  intuition  in  a  definite  way,  and  to  run  through  it 

"PSF,  Vol.  Ill,  3  30. 
"PSF,  Vol.  Ill,  346. 


ioo  CARL  H.  HAMBURG 

according  to  a  prescribed  law.  .  .  .  (Thus)  no  insuperable  gap  can  arise 
between  the  'universal'  and  the  'particular,'  because  the  universal  itself 
has  no  other  meaning  and  purpose  than  to  represent  and  to  render 
possible  the  connection  and  order  of  the  particular.  If  we  regard  the 
particular  as  a  serial  member  and  the  universal  as  a  serial  principle, 
it  is  at  once  clear  that  the  two  moments,  without  going  over  into  each 
other  and  in  any  way  being  confused,  still  refer  throughout  in  their 
function  to  each  other.39 

The  symbolic  function,  implied  in  the  theoretical  mode,  becomes 
comparable  to  both  the  expression-  and  intuition-modes  in  that 
here  too  we  are  bidden  to  distinguish  between  the  "principle  of 
the  series"  and  the  "manifold"  ordered  into  the  members  of  the 
series. 

Let  us  put  this  polarity  into  the  language  of  symbolic  logic. 
If  we  are  to  define  the  meaning  of  a  concept  not  extensionally 
(by  specification  of  the  members  that  are  subsumed)  but  in 
terms  of  a  prepositional  function  p(x),  we  are  clearly  desig- 
nating two  distinguishable  moments. 

The  general  form  of  the  functions  designated  by  the  letter  C0'  is  to  be 
sharply  contrasted  with  the  values  of  the  variable  V  which  may  enter 
this  function  as  ctrue'  values.  The  function  determines  the  relation  of 
these  values,  but  it  is  not  itself  one  of  them:  the  C0'  of  C0(x)'  is  not 
homogenous  to  the  xi,  X2,  Xs,  etc.  [Both  the  function  and  the  values  of 
the  variables  belong  to  an  entirely  different  conceptual  type  (Denk- 


And  this  formulation  only  throws  into  relief  the  distinctness  of 
the  two  moments  which,  as  the  principle  (form)  of  the  series 
and  its  members  (material)  are  held  to  define  all  theoretical 
(conceptual)  symbolisms.  The  distinctive  trait  of  theoretical 
concept-formation  must,  accordingly,  be  sought  in  the  elabora- 
tion of  distinctive  "points  of  view"  which,  as  "principles"  or 
"forms"  determine  the  selection  of  the  perceptually  given  mani- 
fold into  specifically  ordered  series.  In  this  connection,  Cassirer 
argues  against  certain  empiricist  doctrines  which  regard  the 
"similarity"  of  the  intuitively  apprehended  phenomena  as  a 

39  Substance  and  Function  (Swabey  tr.),  223^ 
*PSF9VoL  III,  349-350. 


CONCEPTION  OF  PHILOSOPHY  101 

self-evident  psychological  fact,  fit  to  account  for  the  serial  re- 
lations established  by  concepts.  But,  as  he  points  out, 

the  similarity  of  certain  elements  can  only  be  spoken  of  significantly  when 
a  certain  point  of  view  has  been  established  from  which  the  elements  can 
be  designated  as  like  or  unlike.  The  difference  between  these  contents, 
on  the  one  hand,  and  the  conceptual  species  by  which  we  unify  them, 
on  the  other,  is  an  irreducible  ]act$  it  is  categorial  and  belongs  to  the 
form  of  consciousness.41 

It  designates,  as  we  have  seen,  the  polar  contrast  between  the 
members  of  a  series  and  the  form  of  the  series. 

(2)  The  correlativity  of  "sense"  and  "senses." 

Above,  we  have  considered  a  number  of  passages  indicative 
of  Cassirer's  conviction  that  on  all  levels  on  which  we,  symboli- 
cally, have  a  world, — be  it  as  organized  in  qualitative  expres- 
sion-characters, be  it  as  "broken"  into  spatio-temporally  ordered 
"things-with-properties,"  be  it  in  the  relational  order-systems 
of  the  sciences, — we  are  always  in  a  position  to  make  a  €€dis- 
tinctio  rationis"  between  the  "sight"  (die  Sicht;  the  form  of  a 
manifold)  and  the  sensory  data  that  are  variously  determinable 
within  these  different  sights.  We  have  treated  of  this  conviction 
as  implying  an  interpretation  of  polarity  between  the  two  mo- 
ments of  the  symbol  function.  We  must  now  qualify  this  char- 
acterization by  pointing  out  that,  in  another  sense  (to  be 
specified),  both  moments  are  taken  as  correlative  to  a  degree 
that  makes  it  inconceivable  to  refer  to  or  define  either  moment 
except  under  implicit  presupposition  of  the  other.  If,  in  agree- 
ment with  Cassirer's  actual  usage,  we  call  the  perceptive  mani- 
fold the  "matter"  of  the  symbolic  function  and  the  sense- 
perspective  (Sinn-Persfektive)  its  "form,"  we  are  bidden  to 
think  of  these  terms  as  correlative  in  such  a  way  that  it  is  not 
only  impossible — in  any  actual  context — to  separate  one  from 
the  other,  but  also  to  assign  any  meaning  to  either  term  without 
implication  of  the  meaning  of  the  other. 

Our  problem  here  makes  contact  with  the  metaphysical  con- 
troversy about  universals.  From  what  has  been  said  so  far  about 

41  Substance  and  Function,  25. 


CARL  H.  HAMBURG 

the  relation  between  the  "form"  and  "matter"  of  a  series,  there 
can  be  no  doubt  that  Cassirer  could  not,  without  qualifications, 
have  subscribed  to  either  the  realist  or  the  nominalist  position. 
Partial  agreement  is  indicated  with  St.  Thomas,42  whom  he 
credits  with  having  maintained  a  "strict  correlation,  a  mutual 
relationship  between  the  general  and  the  particular."43  What 
attracts  him  in  this  version  is  the  fact  that  it  is  free  from  the 
various  space-  and  time-metaphorical  separations  that  have 
traditionally  been  assumed  to  characterize  the  universal  as  be- 
ing before  or  after,  within  or  outside  the  particular.  Cassirer's 
insistence  that  no  meaning  can  be  given  to  the  universal  "form" 
independently  of  a  "matter"  for  which  it  is  valid,  is  reasserted  in 
a  number  of  ways,  such  as,  e.g.,  the  "sight"  determining  the 
"how"-character  of  "what"  is  seen,  or  the  "principle  of  a  series" 
exhausting  its  meaning  in  the  order  it  establishes  among  the  mem- 
bers of  the  series,  or  the  "p"  of  a  prepositional  function  not  be- 
ing definable  independently  of  the  variables  for  which  it  holds.44 
Now,  it  has  been  suggested  that  Cassirer's  thought  here  is  not 
free  from  contradiction  on  the  grounds  that  the  two  moments 
by  which  he  aims  to  define  the  symbol-concept  cannot  both: 
(a)  belong  to  two  entirely  different  dimensions  and  (b)  yet  be 
tied  together  in  such  close  correlation  that  the  definition  of  one 
could  not  be  given  except  in  terms  of  the  other.  These  objections 
were  voiced  by  the  Swedish  philosopher  Marc-Wogau.45  It  is 
to  these  objections  that  we  must  now  give  some  attention,  before 
considering  Cassirer's  defense  in  the  sequel. 

d.  The  Symbol-Concept.  Objections  and  Defense 
Marc-Wogau  writes: 

A  closer  examination  seems  to  me  to  lead  to  the  result  that  the  positive 
meaning  of  Cassirer's  "symbolic  relation"  is  of  a  dialectical  character; 
the  symbolic  relation,  as  conceived  by  Cassirer,  covers  both  the  idea  of 
an  opposition  between  the  sensuously  given  (the  sign)  on  the  one  hand, 

48  "Universalia  non  sunt  res  subsistentes,  sed  habent  esse  solum  in  singularibus." 
Contra  Gentiles ,  Lib.  I,  165. 
48 /W,  Vol.  Ill,  351. 

44  On  this  point,  see  also  B.  Russell,  Principles  of  Mathematics,  85. 
48  In:   Theoria  (Tidskrift  for  Filosofi  och  Psykologi,  1936),  279-332, 


CONCEPTION  OF  PHILOSOPHY  103 

and  the  " Sinner juettunff*  (the  signified)  on  the  other,  and  also  the  idea 
of  an  identity  between  the  two.  The  first  idea  is  clearly  asserted  by 
Cassirer,  the  second  issues  as  a  consequence  from  certain  of  his  definitions 
and  assertions.46 

Now,  the  second  idea  concerns  the  correlativity  of  the  two 
symbol-moments  which,  according  to  Marc-Wogau,  entails 
their  identity  as  a  consequence.  Let  us  follow  his  reasoning: 

'Sign'  and  'Signified'  ...  are  to  be  mutually  conditioned  by  each  other 
in  their  determinate  character.  One  moment  has  meaning  only  in  re- 
lation to  the  other.  But  that  implies  that  the  thought  about  the  one  term 
involves  the  thought  about  the  other.  If  the  one  term  is  being  thought 
of,  the  other  is  thereby  being  thought  of  too.  The  two  moments  of  the 
relation  would,  in  consequence,  coincide.  If  A  and  B  are  to  be  connected 
in  such  a  way  that  A  can  be  determined  only  with  reference  to  B  and 
B  can  be  determined  only  in  reference  to  A,  it  becomes  impossible  to 
distinguish  A  and  B :  they  coincide  (zusammen] alien)  .4T 

With  respect  to  another  characterizatioin  of  the  symbol  by  Cas- 
sirer, according  to  which  it  is  said  to  be  "immanence"  and 
"transcendence"  in  one:  in  so  far  as  it  expresses  a  meaning — 
non-intuitive  in  principle — in  an  intuitive  form,"48  Marc-Wogau 
remarks: 

In  this  definition,  two  moments  are  distinguished  which  are  related  in 
a  specific  way.  When  Cassirer  characterizes  this  relation  by  saying  that 
"the  symbol  is  not  'the  one  or  the  other,'  but  that  it  represents  the  'one 
in  the  other'  and  'the  other  in  the  one,'  "  the  question  seems  to  crop  up 
how,  under  such  circumstances,  a  possible  distinction  between  the  'one' 
and  the  'other'  could  even  be  made.  By  this  definition  is  there  not 
posited  an  identity  between  the  two  moments  of  the  symbolic  relation 
which  would  conflict  with  the  insistence  upon  their  polarity?49 

In  Cassirer's  rejoinder  to  these  objections,50  at  least  two 
different  lines  of  argumentation  may  be  distinguished.  For  one, 
considerations  are  adduced,  designed  to  render  questionable 

441  Theoria,  (1936),  291. 

47  Theoria,  (1936),  292. 

48  PSF,  Vol.  Ill,  447- 


*  w'*«*>  v*yjw/,  33 1. 
60 In  Theoria,  (1938)1  '45-'75. 


104  CARL  H.  HAMBURG 

Marc-Wogau's  belief  that  there  are  logical  grounds  on  which 
the  maintained  correlativity  of  the  two  symbol-moments  could 
be  refuted.  Furthermore,  illustrations  from  empirical  sciences 
are  reproduced  for  the  purpose  of  supporting  his  contention  that 
the  two  symbol-moments  (although  correlative)  cannot  only 
still  be  distinguished,  but  purporting  to  show  that  and  how  such 
isolation  of  the  two  moments  has  been  accomplished.  In  this 
connection,  Cassirer  quotes  extensively  from  contemporary  re- 
search into  color  and  acoustical  phenomena  which  are  presented 
by  him  as  documenting  as  a  fact  what  Marc-Wogau  had  denied 
as  a  possibility. 

( i )  The  logical  issue. 

Marc-Wogau's  objection  that,  if  two  terms  of  a  relation  are 
thought  of  as  "mutually  determined,"  they  will,  of  necessity, 
also  be  identical,  is  countered  by  Cassirer's  reference  to  the 
actual  employment  of  "implicit  definitions"  in  modern  mathe- 
matical logic.  Now,  implicit  definitions  may  be  defined  as  "de- 
noting anything  whatsoever  provided  that  what  they  denote 
conforms  to  the  stated  relations  between  themselves,"51  where 
the  stating  of  the  relations  is  presumably  to  be  given  within  the 
axiom-system  selected.  With  the  discovery  of  non-Euclidean 
geometries,  Cassirer  remarks,  it  became  increasingly  clear  to 
those  concerned  with  their  logical  foundation,  that  their  ele- 
ments— the  points,  lines,  angles,  etc. — could  not  be  defined 
anymore  in  the  explicit  way  in  which  Euclid  could  take  them  as 
intuitively  evident.  "Neither  the  basic  elements,  nor  the  basic 
relations  could  have  been  defined,  if  by  a  definition  one  under- 
stands the  indication  of  the  'genus  *proximmn?  and  of  the  'dif- 
ferentia specified."*2  A  way  out,  Cassirer  suggests,  was  opened 
by  Pasch's  investigations53  which  were  continued  and  brought  to 
a  systematic  conclusion  with  Hilbert's  Grundlagen  der  Geomet- 
rie.**  Hilbert's  analyses,  of  considerable  influence  upon  the 
development  of  mathematical  logic,  may  be  summarized  by 
saying  that,  for  him,  the  geometrical  elements  and  relations  are 

51  Cohen  and  Nagel,  An  Introduction  to  Logic  and  Scientific  Method,  135. 

K  Theoria,  169. 

88  See  Substance  and  Function,  101. 

"ibid.,  93. 


CONCEPTION  OF  PHILOSOPHY  105 

not  to  be  taken  as  independent  entities,  intuitively  grasped,  for 
which  ^xplicit  definitions  could  be  given,  but  as  terms  whose 
meaning  is  specified  by  the  relations  which  are  axiomatically 
prescribed  for  them.  "The  axioms  which  they  satisfy  determine 
and  exhaust  their  essence."55  Basic  geometrical  concepts  are, 
accordingly,  held  to  be  only  implicitly  definable,  i.e.,  within 
a  logical  system;  and  it  is  gratuitous  to  ask  for  a  determination 
of  their  meaning  independently  of  this  system.  It  follows, 
of  course,  that,  if  in  Hilbert's  geometry  the  signification  of 
points,  lines,  the  relations  of  "between-ness,"  "outside,"  etc., 
cannot  be  formulated  except  in  relation  to  a  selected  axiom- 
group,  a  variety  of  other  elements  and  relations,  if  they  satisfy 
the  formal  conditions  of  the  same  axioms,  must  be  considered 
as  equivalent  to  it.  Against  the  very  possibility  of  structural 
isomorphisms,  of  different  (though  logically  justifiable)  inter- 
pretations of  the  same  basic  calculus,  the  objection  could  perhaps 
be  raised  that  they  merely  prove  the  impossibility  of  arriving 
at  completely  determined  elements  by  means  of  implicit  def- 
initions. This  apparent  limitation,  however,  also  marks  the 
very  strength  of  mathematical,  deductive  thought,  as  was  stated 
by  Cassirer  distinctly  in  his  Substance  and  Function: 

Two  different  types  of  assertions,  of  which  the  one  deals  with  straight 
lines  and  planes,  the  other  with  cycles  and  spheres  .  .  .  are  regarded  as 
equivalent  to  each  other  in  so  far  as  they  provide  for  the  same  con- 
ceptual dependencies.  .  .  .  The  points  with  which  Euclidean  geometry 
deals  can  be  changed  into  spheres  and  circles,  into  inverse  point-pairs 
of  a  hyperbolic  or  elliptical  group  of  spheres  .  .  .  without  any  change 
being  produced  in  the  deductive  relations  of  the  individual  propositions 
.  .  .  evolved  for  these  points.  .  .  .  Mathematics  recognizes  (in  these 
points)  no  other  'being'  than  that  belonging  to  them  by  participation  in 
this  form.  For  it  is  only  this  'being'  that  enters  into  proof  and  into  the 
processes  of  inference  and  is  thus  accessible  to  the  full  certainty  that 
mathematics  gives  to  its  subject-matter.56 

The  relevance  of  these  considerations  for  the  problem  at 
hand  may  perhaps  be  put  thus:  Marc-Wogau's  contention  that, 
if  the  terms  of  a  relation  are  mutually  determined,  they  there- 

w  Theoria,  1 69. 

M  Substance  ana  Function  (Swabey  tr.),  93. 


io6  CARL  H.  HAMBURG 

by  must  also  be  identical,  is  refutable,  if  we  maintain  the  justi- 
fiability of  implicit  definitions,  respectively  of  the  different 
mathematical  (logical)  calculi  which  they  make  possible.  And 
vice  versa:  Marc-Wogau's  charge,  if  taken  seriously,  would 
not  only  refute  the  "logic"  of  the  symbol-concept  (with  its 
two  distinct,  yet  correlative  moments,  its  "sensuous"  represen- 
tation of  the  "non-sensuous"),  but  it  would  also  have  to  refute 
the  "logic"  of  all  those  disciplines  that  could  not  constitute  their 
respective  syntax-forms  except  by  employment  of  implicit  defi- 
nitions. In  consequence,  Cassirer  is  convinced  that,  if  the  scien- 
tist can  proceed  effectively  with  elements  the  meaning  of  which 
is  indefinable  outside  the  axiom-system  within  which  they  occur, 
the  philosopher  neither  may  (nor  need)  hope  for  more  secure 
foundations  regarding  the  symbol-concept.  Marc-Wogau's 
charge  of  a  contradiction  inherent  in  this  concept  is  thus 
countered  by  Cassirer's  reference  to  scientific  syntax  whose 
elements  are  not  considered  identical  merely  because  their 
definition  implies  mutual  determination. 

(2)  The  empirical  issue. 

Regardless,  however,  whether  correlativity  of  the  relational 
terms  implies  their  "identity"  or  not,  is  there  any  other  than 
just  formal  evidence  for  the  "fact"  that,  notwithstanding  such 
correlativity,  a  distinction  between  the  symbol-moments  is  not 
only  logically  permissible  but  also  actually  achievable?  Before 
examining  the  empirical  evidence  adduced  in  answer  to  this 
question,  it  will  be  worth  while  to  consider  the  issue  here  raised 
in  its  full  generality. 

The  symbol-concept,  we  suggested  above,  was  to  result  from 
Kant's  epistemology,  in  so  far  as  it  was  to  cover  all  the  "syn- 
thesizing acts"  which  variously  condition  the  many  expressive, 
perceptual,  and  conceptual  forms  in  which  we  have  the  respec- 
tive worlds  of  myth,  art,  common  sense,  and  science.  Instead 
of  departing  from  a  taken-for-granted  opposition  between  a 
statically  conceived  "self"  and  a  just  as  statically  conceived 
"world,"  the  philosophy  of  symbolic  forms  was  proposed 

to  examine  the  presuppositions  upon  which  that  opposition  depends  and 
to  state  the  conditions  that  are  to  be  satisfied  if  it  is  to  come  about.  It 
finds  that  these  conditions  are  not  uniform,  that  there  are  rather  different 


CONCEPTION  OF  PHILOSOPHY  107 

dimensions  of  apprehending,  comprehending  and  knowing  the  phenom- 
ena and  that,  relative  to  this  difference,  the  relationship  between  'self 
and  'world'  is  capable  of  characteristically  different  interpretations.  .  .  . 
True,  all  these  forms  aim  at  objectification  on  the  level  of  perception 
(zielen  auj  gegenstandliche  Anschauung  hin)^  but  the  perceived  objects 
change  with  the  type  and  direction  of  such  objectification.  The  phi- 
losophy of  symbolic  forms,  accordingly,  does  not  intend  to  establish  a 
special  dogmatic  theory  regarding  the  essence  and  properties  of  these 
'objects,'  but  it  aims,  instead,  to  comprehend  these  types  of  objectifica- 
tion which  characterize  art  as  well  as  religion  and  science.87 

It  follows  that,  if  no  objectivity  is  held  to  be  encounterable 
except  within  the  symbolic  forms  of  myth  and  religion,  of  art, 
common  sense,  and  science,  there  also  can  be  no  chance  to  break 
out  of  the  "charmed  circle"  of  these  forms.  If  it  is  only  under 
the  pervasive  presupposition  of  these  forms  that  we  can  appre- 
hend, comprehend  and  know  all  the  objects,  however  struc- 
tured, how  then  will  it  be  possible  even  to  conceive  of  a  polar 
concept  which,  such  as  the  "sensuous  manifold,"  is  claimed  to 
be  distinguishable  from  the  formal  moment  of  the  symbol- 
relation?  What  answer,  in  other  words,  can  be  given  to  Marc- 
Wogau's  charge  that,  to  be  consistent,  Cassirer  cannot  hope  even 
to  make  a  "distinctio  rationis**  between  the  perceptual  "matter" 
and  the  significant  "form"  of  the  symbol-concept?  As  mentioned 
earlier,  it  is  typical  of  Cassirer's  procedure  that  the  resolution 
of  this  problem  is  not  left  to  logical  or  specifically  "philo- 
sophical" considerations  as  have  conventionally  been  devoted 
to  the  "form-matter"  issue.  The  latter  is  to  be  evaluated,  in- 
stead, in  the  light  of  empirical  evidence.  Let  us  be  clear  once 
more  for  just  exactly  what  this  empirical  reference  is  to  provide 
evidence.  What  is  under  discussion  concerns  the  question 
whether  the  "material"  moment  of  the  symbol-concept  (to 
which  we  have  variously  referred  as  the  "sensuous  manifold," 
the  "sensory-  or  perceptual  data") — although  indeterminable 
outside  any  given  context  ("perspective,"  "sight,"  "principle" 
or  "form  of  a  series") — can  nevertheless  be  distinguished,  i.e., 
conceived  as  different  in  principle  from  the  sense-perspectives 
within  which  it  becomes  manifest. 

For  evidence  of  the  fact  that  this  problem  has  been  realized 

87  Theoria  (1938),  151. 


io8  CARL  H.  HAMBURG 

by  scientists,  Cassirer  quotes  these  remarks  from  Karl  Buehler: 

No  theory  of  perception  should  forget  that  already  the  most  simple 
qualities,  such  as  'red'  and  'warm'  usually  do  not  function  for  them- 
selves but  as  signs  for  something  else,  i.e.,  as  signs  of  properties  of 
perceived  things  and  events.  The  matter  looks  different  only  in  the 
comparatively  problematic  borderline-case  where  one  seeks  to  determine 
the  'Ansich*  of  these  qualities  in  fercepion™ 

But  it  is,  of  course,  exactly  this  "borderline-case,"  i.e.,  whether 
conditions  for  the  isolation  of  the  "Ansich"  of  perceptual  data 
can  be  instituted  or  not  (and  how  such  isolation  is  to  be  inter- 
preted), that  is  at  issue.  The  question,  in  other  words,  is  whether 
perceptual  data  can  be  stripped  of  their  various  representative 
functions,  and  the  relevance  of  having  recourse  to  empirical 
investigations  would  concern  the  technical  possibility  of  operat- 
ing such  a  reductive  stripping  of  these  data.  For  evidence  of  the 
empirical  feasibility  of  that  reduction,  Cassirer  mentions  the 
German  physiologists  Helmholtz,  Hering  and  Katz.  Katz, 
e.g.,59  had  initiated  a  procedure  involving,  a.o.,  the  observation 
of  colors  through  a  punctured  screen  (ILochschirm) .  "It  turned 
out  that  hereby  (the  colors)  change  their  phenomenal  character 
and  that  there  takes  place  a  reduction  of  the  color-impression 
to  ...  the  dimension  of  plane-  (Flaechen-)  colors."60  Hering 
performs  similar  reductions  by  means  of  a  vision-tube  (eine 
irgendwie  fixierte  Roehre)^  whereas  Helmholtz,  more  ingeni- 
ously, gets  along  without  any  instruments  and  achieves  com- 
parable effects  by  "looking  from  upside  down,  from  under  one's 
legs  or  under  one's  arms."  Thus,  Hering: 

Place  yourself  near  the  window,  holding  in  your  hands  a  piece  of 
white  and  a  piece  of  grey  paper  closely  together.  Now,  turn  the  grey 
paper  towards  the  window,  the  white  one  away  from  it,  so  that  the 
retinal  image  of  the  grey  paper  will  be  more  strongly  illuminated  than 
the  white  one  5  but  even  though  one  will  notice  the  change  in  light- 
intensity,  the  now  "lighter"  but  really  grey  paper  will  still  appear  as 
grey,  while  the  now  "darker"  but  really  white  paper  will  be  seen  as 
white.  If  now  both  papers  are  looked  at  through  a  tube,  one  will  soon 

M  Die  Krise  der  Psychologic  (1927),  97. 

59  In  his  Der  Aufbau  der  Farbwelt,  (ind  edition  1930). 

90  Grundziige  elner  Lehre  <vom  Lichtsinn.  Paragraph  4. 


CONCEPTION  OF  PHILOSOPHY  109 

see  both  papers  (if  held  so  that  one  will  not  shade  the  other)  on  one 
and  the  same  level,  and  now  the  grey  paper  will  be  seen  as  the  lighter 
one,  the  white  one  as  the  darker  one,  corresponding  to  the  difference  in 
the  two  light-intensities.60 

And  Helmholtz: 

We  know  that  green  plains  appear — at  a  certain  distance — in  somewhat 
different  color-tones;  we  get  used  to  abstract  from  this  change  and  we 
learn  to  identify  the  different  'green'  of  distant  lawns  and  trees  with 
the  corresponding  'green'  of  these  objects,  seen  at  close  range.  .  .  .  But 
as  soon  as  we  put  ourselves  into  unusual  circumstances,  when  we  look, 
e.g.,  from  under  our  legs  or  arms,  the  landscape  appears  to  us  as  a  flat 
picture.  .  .  .  Colors  thereby  lose  their  connection  to  close  or  distant 
objects  and  now  face  us  purely  in  their  qualitative  differences.61 

Similar  reductions  with  respect  to  other  than  color-phenomena 
are  also  referred  to  by  Cassirer  in  this  connection.182 

Now  it  seems  that,  if  examples  of  the  above-mentioned  type 
are  taken  as  evidence  for  the  fact  that  the  severing  of  sensory 
data  from  representative  contexts  is  not  only  possible  but  actu- 
ally (technically)  achievable,  Cassirer  would  both  be  proving 
too  much  (with  respect  to  what  can  be  maintained  within  his 
own  strictures)  and  not  enough  (with  respect  to  what  he  pre- 
sumes to  prove).  For  one,  to  suggest  that  Helmholtz's,  Her- 
ing's,  and  Katz's  investigations  succeeded  in  "de  facto"  isolating 
the  "pure  color-phenomena"  from  their  representative  office, 
would  be  to  maintain  more  than  Cassirer  could  allow  for,  after 
taking  pains  to  point  out  that  the  sensuous  moment  can  never 
actually  be  encountered  independently  of  the  sense  (context-) 
moment.  To  maintain  such  "isolation"  would  certainly  not  be 
compatible  with  his  contention  that  "there  is  nothing  in  con- 
sciousness without  thereby  also  positing  . .  .  something  other  and 
a  series  of  such  'others.*  For  each  singular  content  of  conscious- 
ness obtains  its  very  determination  from  consciousness  as  a  whole 
which,  in  some  form,  is  always  simultaneously  represented  and 
co-posited  by  it."83  Nor  could,  or  need,  the  alluded  empirical 

61  Hcmdbuch  der  Physiologischen  Oftik,  (1896),  607. 

62 For  haftical  phenomena:  Katz,  Der  Aufbau  der  Tastwelt  (1925),  255.  For 
odor  phenomena:  Henning,  Der  Geruch  (1924.),  275,  278. 
mPSF,  Vol.  I,  32. 


no  CARL  H.  HAMBURG 

illustration  prove  that  this  is  not  the  case.  What  they  may  be 
taken  to  support  is  not  the  view  that  color- values  can  be  stripped 
of  their  representative  function,  but  only  that — by  an  appropri- 
ate shift  from  a  normal  perception  perspective  to  a  controlled 
two-dimensional  perspective — different  interpretations  hold 
with  respect  to  color-phenomena.  The  latter  have,  in  effect,  not 
"really"  been  stripped  of  their  representative  office,  but  they 
now  "represent"  plane  instead  of  surface  colors. 

That  the  above  is  a  preferable  way  of  stating  the  matter  is 
suggested  by  an  earlier  pronouncement: 

(After)  the  complete  reduction  of  the  color-impressions,  they  do  not 
represent  ...  a  particular  thing  .  .  .  (but)  appear  as  members  of  a 
series  of  light-experiences  (Ltchterlebnisse) .  But  even  these  'Lichter- 
lebnisse*  betray  a  certain  structure  in  so  far  as  they  are  sharply  con- 
trasted with  each  other,  and  in  that  they  are  organized  in  that  contrast. 
Not  only  do  they  have  different  degrees  of  coherence  so  that  one  color 
appears  separated  from  the  other  by  a  larger  or  smaller  distance  (where- 
from  issues  a  determinate  principle  of  their  serialization),  but  there 
are  assumed  in  this  series  certain  privileged  points  around  which  the 
various  elements  can  be  organized.  Even  when  reduced  to  a  mere 
light-impression,  the  individual  color-nuance  is  not  just  'present'  as 
such  but  it  also  is  representative.  The  individual  'red,'  given  here  and 
now,  is  given  as  V  red,  as  a  member  of  a  species  which  it  represents.  . .  . 
Without  this  (co-ordination  to  a  series),  the  impression  would  not  even 
be  determinable  as  'this  one,1  as  TO$S  te  in  the  Aristotelian  sense.64 

We  must  conclude,  therefore,  that  it  becomes  impossible  on 
Cassirer's  own  view  to  conceive  of  the  sensory  moment  of  the 
symbol-concept  as  isolable  from  any  serial  context.  Thus, 
whereas,  under  specifically  controlled  conditions,  color-,  sound-, 
and  other  sensory  data  may  cease  to  function  representatively 
for  esthetic  qualities,  thing-surfaces  and  shapes,  or  for  con- 
ventional language-signs,  their  reduction  will  still  not  go  be- 
yond the  physical  and  physiological  contexts  within  which  they 
are  identifiable  as  of  a  determinate  wave-length,  intensity,  pitch, 
etc.  Marc-Wogau's  charge  that  the  "material"  moment  of  the 
symbol-concept  is  not  distinguishable  from  its  sense-moment 
would,  accordingly,  hold  if  and  only  if  the  symbol-concept 

,  Vol.  Ill,  157. 


CONCEPTION  OF  PHILOSOPHY  in 

allowed  of  application  in  one  and  not  more  than  one  sense- 
context.  To  be  sure,  within  any  one  perspective,  the  "whatness" 
of  a  phenomenon  is  never  determinable  in  separation  from  its 
"how-ness,"  from  the  respective  "sight"  in  which  it  is  seen.  With 
a  variety  of  symbolic  contexts,  however,  there  is  also  given  the 
possibility  of  their  contrast  and  of  distinguishing  them  as  dif- 
ferently oriented  "modes  of  sight,"  of  which  it  can  be  said  that 
they  are  "of"  sensory  data  in  the  sense  that  a  reduction  to  the 
physico-descriptive  dimension  can  be  performed  for  all  of 
them.  When  Cassirer  insists,  therefore,  that  "there  is  always  a 
world  of  optical,  acoustical  and  haptical  phenomena  in  which 
and  by  means  of  which  all  'sense/  all  apprehending,  compre- 
hending, intuiting  and  conceiving  alone  is  manifest,"65  then  the 
conceivability  of  these  sensory  phenomena,  as  distinct  from  the 
"sense"  they  manifest,  must  be  interpreted  to  mean  that  a  phys- 
ical context  (acoustics,  optics,  etc.)  can  be  co-ordinated  to  all 
other  contexts  in  which  the  senses  represent  different  types  of 
(expressive,  intuitional,  theoretical)  sense. 

The  "material"  moment  of  the  symbol-concept,  we  could 
say,  as  reference  of  and  relevance  for  the  sense-endowing 
"formal"  moment,  may  not  be  separately  encountered  or  isol- 
able  within  one  context,  but  it  is  nevertheless  distinguishable 
as  one  context.  To  speak  of  it  as  "material,"  would  seem  to  be 
justified,  if  one  considers  the  term  to  stand — in  the  Aristotelian 
sense — for  what  is  taken  as  that  of  which  manifold  determina- 
tions are  possible.  What  the  term  also  suggests  is  that  we  are 
dealing  here  with  what — as  matter — in  space  and  time,  is  ac- 
cessible to  physical  determination.  In  this  sense,  the  material 
moment  refers  not  just  to  one  among  other  contexts,  but  to  the 
most  reliably  controlled  and  pervasive  one  to  which  all  other 
contexts  may  indeed  be  "reduced." 

In  support  of  our  belief  that  this  interpretation  of  the  "in- 
dependent variability"  of  the  two  symbol-moments  is  adequate 
with  respect  to  what  Cassirer  aims  to  maintain,  let  us  turn,  in 
conclusion,  to  an  illustration  adduced  by  him  on  various  oc- 
casions:186 Cassirer  bids  us  to  think  of  a  black  line-drawing,  a 

"Theoria  (1939))  *S3- 

"E.g  in:  Zeitschrift  fur  Aesthetik,  1927,  (Vol.  XXI),  195.  PSF,  Vol.  Ill, 
331.  Theoria  (1938),  154. 


ii2  CARL  H.  HAMBURG 

"Linienzug"  distinguished  as  a  simple  "perception  experience." 

Yet,  while  I  still  follow  the  various  lines  of  the  drawing  in  their  visual 
relations,  their  light  and  dark,  their  contrast  from  the  background, 
their  up-and-down  movements,  the  lines  become,  so  to  speak,  alive. 
The  spatial  form  (das  GebUde)  becomes  an  aesthetic  form:  I  grasp  in 
it  the  character  of  a  certain  ornament  ...  I  can  remain  absorbed  in  the 
pure  contemplation  of  this  ornament,  but  I  can  also  apprehend  in  and 
through  it  something  else:  it  represents  to  me  an  expressive  segment  of 
an  artistic  language,  in  which  I  recognize  the  language  of  a  certain 
time,  the  style  of  an  historical  period.  Again  the  'mode  of  sight'  may 
change,  in  so  far  as,  what  was  manifest  as  an  ornament,  is  now  dis- 
closed to  me  as  a  vehicle  of  a  mythico-religious  significance,  as  a  magical 
.  .  .  sign.  By  a  further  shift  in  perspective,  the  lines  function  as  a 
sensuous  vehicle  for  a  purely  conceptual  structure-context.  .  .  .  To  the 
mathematician,  they  become  the  intuitive  representation  of  a  specific 
functional  connection.  .  .  .  Where,  in  the  aesthetic  sight,  one  may  see 
them  perhaps  as  Hogarth  beauty-lines,  they  picture  to  the  mathematician 
a  certain  trigonometric  junction,  viz.,  the  picture  of  a  sin-curve, 
whereas  the  mathematical  physicist  may  perhaps  see  in  this  curve  the 
law  of  some  natural  process,  such  as,  e.g.,  the  law  for  a  periodic  oscilla- 
tion. 

All  depends  here  upon  what  is  taken  to  remain  "identical"  in 
all  these  modes  of  sight.  When  we  say  that  it  is  the  "Linien- 
zug"  which  figures  as  the  material  moment  in  all  contexts,  in 
what  sense  can  we  say  that  it  is  the  "same"  one,  since  we  know 
that  it  is  seen  as  so  many  different  things  from  context  to  con- 
text? Cassirer's  rather  metaphorical  pronouncements  in  this 
connection  can  be  clarified  in  the  light  of  our  interpretation.  In 
the  passage  quoted  above,  he  speaks  of  the  simple  (schlichte) 
"perception  experience"  in  which  the  line-drawing  is  phenomen- 
ally given  before  it  "comes  to  life,"  i.e.,  enters  into  the  various 
perspectives  mentioned.  But  clearly,  if  experienceable  at  all, 
this  "simple  perception  experience"  must  itself  be  taken  as  a 
mode  of  sight  and  not  as  a  moment  prior  and  common  to  all 
other  sights.  This  formulation  is  particularly  unhappy  in  the 
light  of  other  passages  where  Cassirer  generalizes  upon  the  il- 
lustration given  above  by  remarking  that 

the  material  moment  is  no  psychological  datum ,  but  rather  a  liminal 


CONCEPTION  OF  PHILOSOPHY  113 

notion  (Grenzbe griff).  .  .  .  What  we  call  the  'matter'  of  perception 
is  not  a  certain  sum-total  of  impressions,  a  concrete  substratum  at  the 
basis  of  artistic,  mythical  or  theoretical  representation.  It  is  rather  a 
line  towards  which  the  various  formal  modes  converge.  (Erne  Linie 
.  .  .  in  der  sich  die  verschiedenen  Weisen  der  Formung  schneiden.)*7 

This  space-metaphorical  version  of  the  issue  would  be  amen- 
able to  the  interpretation  suggested  in  so  far  as  the  "matter  of 
perception"  qua  "convergence  of  the  various  formal  modes" 
could  well  be  taken  as  the  "reductibility"  of  all  contexts  to  the 
physico-physiological  one  from  which  Cassirer's  actual  evidence 
is  concededly  derived.  (Helmholtz,  Hering,  Katz,  Buehler, 
etc.) 

SYMBOL-CONCEPT  AND  PHILOSOPHY  OF  SYMBOLIC  FORMS 

We  conclude  from  the  preceding  discussion  that  a  consistent 
meaning  may  be  assigned  to  Cassirer's  theory  of  the  symbol- 
concept.  The  extreme  generality  of  this  concept  is  manifest  when 
expressed  as  a  propositional  function.  We  could  say  that  the 
property  (of  a  "sensuous"  representing  "sense")  limits  in  no 
way  whatsoever  the  scope  of  the  particulars  which  may  enter  the 
argument  as  true  values.  A  symbolic  relation,  in  other  words, 
must  hold  for  all  facts,  because,  as  indicated  above,  no  facts  are 
•held  to  be  statable  without  reference  to  some  context;  and  no 
context  can  fall  outside  the  symbol  formula,  because,  as  a  con- 
text (Sinnzusammenhang),  it  must  establish  some  exemplifica- 
tion of  a  representative  relationship.  Now,  this  "representation 
of  sense  through  the  senses"  can  take  three  distinct  modal  forms: 

1 i )  If  the  referent  of  the  senses  is  the  affective-emotive  system 
of  man,  the  senses  are  said  to  make  "expressive  sense." 

(2)  If  the  referent  of  the  senses  is  the  volitional-teleological 
system  of  man,  the  senses  make  "common"-(thing-perceptual) 
sense. 

(3  )  If  the  referent  of  the  senses  is  a  system  of  theoretical  order- 
signs,  the  senses  make  conceptual,  i.e.,  scientific  sense. 

It  is  to  each  of  these  "modi"  of  the  symbolic  relation  that 
there  correspond  the  various  cultural  media.  Thus: 

67  Theoria  (1938),  155-156.  ED.  NOTE:  Cf.  infra  330  f. 


ii4  CARL  H.  HAMBURG 

(  i  )  The  expression-modus  is  taken  to  be  exemplified  in  the 
domains  of  myth,  art,  and  (the  substrata  of)  language,  in  all  of 
which  media  we  deal  with  what  Cassirer  terms  "Ausdrucks- 
Charaktere"  and  what  are  variously  referred  to  by  other 
contemporary  philosophers,  in  related  connotations,  as  "terti- 
ary qualities,"  "essences,"  "prehensions,"  "significant  forms," 
etc. 

(2)  The  common  sense  or  empirical-intuitional-  (empirische 
Anschaulichkeit)-modus  is  taken  to  be  exemplified  in  the  "nat- 
ural  world-view"   which   is   both   constituted  and   reflected, 
Cassirer  holds,  by  the  "world  of  language." 

(3)  The  conceptual  (theoretical)  modus  is  taken  to  be  exem- 
plified by  the  order-systems  in  which  we  have  the  "world  of 
science." 

The  philosophy  of  symbolic  forms  is,  accordingly,  a  philos- 
ophy of  the  cultural  forms  from  which  alone  we  can  read  the 
various  modalities  within  which  symbolic  functioning  occurs  and 
of  which  the  symbol-concept  furnishes  the  most  general  formu- 
lation. 

From  these  cultural  exemplifications  of  the  "modi"  of  the 
symbol-concept  we  must  distinguish  the  "qualities"  of  the 
most  pervasive  symbol-relations  which,  such  as  space,  time, 
cause,  number,  etc.,  are  "constitutive"  (in  the  Kantian  sense)  of 
any  and  all  objectivity.  "The  form  of  the  simultaneous  consti- 
tutes a  quality  distinct  from  the  form  of  succession."68  But  since 
each  "quality"  is  never  manifest  but  in  one  of  the  three  specified 
modal  forms, 

we  may  conceive  certain  spatial  forms  (e.g.  certain  lines)  as  an  artistic 
ornament  in  one  case,  as  a  geometrical  draft  in  another  ...  so  that,  in 
consequence,  the  quality  of  a  relation  can  never  adequately  be  given 
except  in  reference  to  the  total  system  from  which  it  is  abstracted.  If, 
e.g.,  we  designate  the  temporal,  spatial,  casual,  etc.,  relations  as  Ri,  R2, 
Rs  .  .  .,  there  belongs  to  each  of  these  a  special  'index  of  modality' 
|*i,  1*2,  [*s  .  .  .  which  indicates  the  context  within  which  they  are  to 
be  taken.69 

It  follows  that  Cassirer  could  not  consider  as  adequate  any 


,  Vol.  I,  29. 

*  PSF,  Vol.  1,  3  1. 


CONCEPTION  OF  PHILOSOPHY  115 

philosophical  analysis  of  space,  time,  cause,  number,  etc.,  unless, 
besides  mathematical  and  physical  spaces,  it  also  attempted  to 
account  for  the  expressive  and  intuitional  spaces  of  common 
sense,  art,  myth,  and  religion. 

In  the  light  of  the  above,  it  will  now  be  clear  in  which  sense 
Cassirer's  theory  of  symbolic  forms  could  be  presented  both  as 
a  "philosophy  of  culture"  and  a  "metaphysics  of  experience." 
There  can  be  little  doubt  that  Cassirer  himself  preferred  to 
think  of  his  work  as  providing  "Prolegomena"  for  a  philosophy 
of  culture.  In  this  form,  the  Philosophie  der  symbolischen  For- 
men  is  actually  developed,  starting,  as  it  does,  from  a  philos- 
ophy of  language  (Volume  I,  1923)  and  moving  on  to  a 
philosophy  of  myth  (Volume  II,  1925)  and  to  a  philosophy  of 
(perceptual  and  conceptual)  knowledge  (Volume  III,  1929).™ 

All  that  would  seem  to  be  required,  however,  in  order  to 
formulate  Cassirer's  various  analyses  of  language,  myth,  and 
the  sciences  as  a  "metaphysics  of  experience,"  would  be  to  bring 
together  the  many  penetrating  examinations  of  "expressive 
space"  (in  the  volumes  on  Language  and  Myth),  of  the  "em- 
pirical space"  of  common  sense  (in  the  volumes  on  Language 
and  Phenomenology  of  Knowledge),  of  mathematical  and 
physical  spaces  (in  the  volumes  on  Phenomenology  of  Knowl- 
edge and  Substance  and  Function),  and  to  arrange  them  within 
a  single  scheme  of  exposition,  doing  the  same  for  the  other 
"categories."  The  result  would  be  at  least  as  universal  a  treat- 
ment of  the  pervasive  (symbolic)  traits  of  "Being"  as  is  ex- 
pected of  a  metaphysical  treatise. 

To  develop  Cassirer's  philosophy  of  symbolic  forms  as  a 
"metaphysics  of  experience"  may  appear  bold,  if  not  outright 
paradoxical,  in  view  of  both  Cassirer's  frequent  polemics  against 
"metaphysical  speculations"  in  his  early  writings  and  in  con- 
sideration of  the  pronounced  anti-metaphysical  tenor  of  the 
entire  neo-Kantian  movement  of  which  Cassirer  was  one  of 
the  most  brilliant  exponents.  A  closer  examination  of  some  of  the 
relevant  passages,  however,  will  back  our  contention  that  the 
issue  is  essentially  a  terminological  one.  It  concerns  not  so  much 

10  In  accordance  with  the  then  ongoing  Hegel-Renaissance,  Cassirer  preferred 
the  title :  "Phaenomenologie  der  Erkenntnis." 


n6  CARL  H.  HAMBURG 

the  possibility  (or  legitimacy)  of  metaphysics  as  a  significant 
philosophical  enterprise  as  rather  the  questionability  of  what 
the  term  "metaphysics"  has  connoted  so  far.  Take,  e.g.,  this 
passage  from  Substance  and  Function: 

When  empirical  science  examines  its  own  procedure,  it  has  to  recog- 
nize that  there  is  in  the  (metaphysical)  struggles  a  false  and  technical 
separation  of  ways  of  knowing  that  are  both  alike  indispensable  to  its  very 
existence.  The  motive  peculiar  to  all  metaphysics  of  knowledge  is  here 
revealed.  What  appears  and  acts  in  the  process  of  knowledge  as  an 
inseparable  unity  of  conditions  is  hypostatized  on  the  metaphysical  view 
into  a  conflict  of  things.71 

Now  compare  this  passage  with  another  one,  written  almost 
thirty  years  later: 

The  history  of  metaphysics  is  by  no  means  a  history  of  meaningless 
concepts  or  empty  words  ...  it  establishes  a  new  basis  of  vision  and  from 
it  gains  a  new  perspective  for  knowing  the  real.72 

What  appears  on  the  surface  as  a  complete  shift  from  a  rejection 
to  an  acceptance  of  metaphysical  thinking  must  be  recognized, 
however,  as  a  mere  shift  in  emphasis  with  respect  to  an  essen- 
tially identical  point  of  view.  To  be  sure,  Cassirer's  statements 
in  Substance  and  Function  are  not  as  positive  with  regard  to 
metaphysics  as  the  point  he  makes  in  the  study  on  Hagerstromy 
where  he  asserts  that  "the  genuine,  the  truly  metaphysical 
thoughts  have  never  been  empty  thoughts,  have  never  been 
thoughts  without  concepts"  (ibid.).  Yet,  in  this  same  context 
he  goes  on  to  warn  us — exactly  as  he  did  in  his  earlier  work — 
that 

the  difficulties,  dangers  and  antinomies  of  metaphysics  arise  from  the 
fact  that  its  'intuitions'  themselves  are  not  expressed  in  terms  of  their 
true  methodological  character.  None  (of  the  great  metaphysical  in- 
sights) is  considered  as  giving  insight  into  only  a  portion,  but  all  are 
claimed  to  generally  span  the  whole  of  reality.  .  .  .  The  subsequent 
contest,  resulting  from  such  (partial)  claims  becomes  at  once  a  dialectical 
conflict.  (Ibid.) 

M  Substance  and  Function  (Swabey  tr.),  237. 

"  Axel  Hagerstromi  Eine  Studie  zur  Scfawedischen  Philosofhie  der  Gegewwart, 
Ch.I. 


CONCEPTION  OF  PHILOSOPHY  117 

Cassirer's  position  is  thus  a  consistent  one.  He  does  not  side 
with  the  positivistic  contention  that  metaphysics  is  not  only 
"false,"  but  also  "meaningless."  Instead,  he  distinguishes  the 
genuine  character  of  the  problems  with  which  the  great  meta- 
physicians have  dealt,  from  the  still  imperfect  modes  in  which 
their  findings  have  been  presented.  The  metaphysical  objective 
is  taken  to  be  legitimate,  whereas  the  metaphysical  results  can- 
not be  accepted  without  qualification,  simply  because  meta- 
physicians have  offered  "partial  truths"  as  "universal"  ones  and 
because,  in  focussing  upon  one  aspect  of  symbolization  (viz. 
the  mathematical,  religious,  aesthetic,  or  moral  one),  they  have 
lost  sight  of  the  equal  validity  of  such  other  aspects  as  also  must 
be  accounted  for  as  legitimate  paths  to  what — in  any  perspective 
— may  be  referred  to  as  the  "real." 

Now,  since  this  denial  of  a  privileged  status  for  any  one  form 
of  representation  is  exactly  what  Cassirer  has  claimed  for  his 
philosophy  of  symbolic  forms,  there  does  not  seem  to  be  any 
reason  why — within  his  own  pronouncements — his  work  may 
not  indeed  be  considered  as  a  kind  of  metaphysics,  oriented 
around  the  central  notion  of  the  symbol-concept,  which  charac- 
terizes all  aspects  (contexts;  Sinnzusammenhange)  of  the 
"real,"  pervading  as  a  common  theme,  the  polyphony  of  all 
cultural  forms  in  which  reality  is  perceived,  understood,  and 
known.  Now,  if  emphasis  is  put  upon  the  mjost  universal  rela- 
tional forms  (space,  time,  cause,  number,  etc.)  which  reappear 
in  characteristic  modifications  in  all  of  these  forms,  we  would 
be  offered  a  metaphysics  of  (cultural)  experience.  If,  on  the 
other  hand,  our  exposition  proceeds  by  way  of  separate  analyses 
of  language,  myth,  religion,  the  mathematical  and  physical 
sciences,  the  character  of  Cassirer's  work  would  be  more  obvi- 
ously one  of  a  philosophy  of  culture.  Regardless,  however, 
which  form  of  presentation  is  chosen,  each  will  center  around 
the  idea  of  the  symbol-concept. 

Cassirer  himself,  when  offered  an  opportunity  to  present 
(in  abbreviated  form)  his  thoughts  to  an  English-speaking 
audience,  subtitled  his  Essay  on  Man  "An  Introduction  to  a 
Philosophy  of  Human  Culture"  Here,  the  emphasis  is  on  the 
cultural  realities,  the  languages  and  rituals,  the  art-masterpieces 


n8  CARL  H.  HAMBURG 

and  scientific  procedures.  To  comprehend  them  philosophically 
requires  to  realize  them  as  so  many  symbolic  manifestations 
of  different  types  of  synthesizing  activities. 

The  content  of  the  culture-concept  cannot  be  separated  from  the  basic 
forms  and  directions  of  significant  (g^istigen)  production;  their  'being* 
is  understandable  only  as  a  'doing.*  It  is  only  because  there  is  a  specific 
direction  of  our  aesthetic  imagination  and  intuition  that  we  have  a 
realm  of  aesthetic  objects  —  and  the  same  goes  for  all  our  other  energies 
by  virtue  of  which  there  is  built  up  for  us  the  structure  of  a  specific 
domain  of  objectivity.73 

An  analysis  of  culture  could,  correspondingly,  proceed  along 
both  "material"  and  "formal"  lines.  It  could  either  undertake  a 
descriptive  classification  of  the  products  of  the  various  cultural 
activities,  or  it  could  seek  "behind"  this  great  diversity  of  mani- 
festations the  characteristic  types  of  intuiting,  imagining,  and 
conceiving,  i.e.,  the  "doings,"  in  terms  of  which  the  "works" 
become  intelligible.  It  is  only  in  focussing  on  the  "doings"  that, 
according  to  Cassirer,  we  may  hope  to  find  a  common  de- 
nominator. "We  seek  not  a  unity  of  effects,  but  a  unity  of 
action;  not  a  unity  of  products,  but  a  unity  of  the  creative 
process."74  But  this  "unity  of  the  creative  process"  —  as  is  ob- 
vious by  now  —  can  be  nothing  else  than  the  unity  and  univer- 
sality of  the  symbolic  function,  expressed  in  the  symbol- 
concept. 

The  "culture-concept"  must,  accordingly,  eclipse  the  "nature- 
concept"  which,  in  Substance  and  Function,  still  stands  for  the 
regulative  idea  of  "lawfulness"  'per  se.  It  does  so  by  reason  of 
the  circumstance  that,  whatever  the  "nature-concept"  connotes 
at  various  historical  periods,  it  is  intelligible  only  as  a  function 
of  what  the  cultural  media  of  art,  religion,  and  science  take  it 
to  mean.  Whereas  "culture"  creates,  in  an  uninterrupted  flow, 
ever  new  linguistic,  artistic,  religious,  and  scientific  symbols, 
both  "philosophy  and  science  must  break  up  these  symbolic 
languages  into  their  elements.  .  .  .  (We  must  learn)  to  inter- 
pret symbols  in  order  to  decipher  the  meaning-content  they 


,  Vol.  1,  1  1. 

74  Essay  on  Man,  70. 


CONCEPTION  OF  PHILOSOPHY  119 

enclose,  to  make  visible  again  the  life  from  which  they  orig- 
inally came  forth."75 

Measured  against  this  considerable  task,  what  we  have  in 
the  three  volumes  of  the  Philosofhie  der  symbolischen  Formen 
can  hardly  be  expected  to  provide  a  full  answer.  Doubtless,  a 
more  detailed  examination  of  the  various  cultural  phenomena 
than  offered  so  far  would  be  required  to  make  good  the  implied 
promise.  Cassirer  himself  was  aware  of  the  tentative  char- 
acter of  his  attempts  in  what  he  thought  was  the  right  direc- 
tion. 

The  'Philosophy  of  Symbolic  Forms'  cannot  and  does  not  try  to  be  a 
philosophical  system  in  the  traditional  sense  of  this  word.  All  it  attempted 
to  furnish  were  the  'Prolegomena'  to  a  future  philosophy  of  culture. 
.  .  .  Only  from  a  continued  collaboration  between  philosophy  and  the 
special  disciplines  of  the  'Humanities'  (Geisteswissenschafteri)  may  one 
hope  for  a  solution  of  this  task.76 

CARL  H.  HAMBURG 
TULANE  UNIVERSITY 

78  Logik  der  Kulturwissenschaften,  94.$ . 


2 

William  Curtis  Swabey 
CASSIRER  AND  METAPHYSICS 


E 


CASSIRER  AND  METAPHYSICS 

1 RNST  CASSIRER  is  known  to  students  of  epistemology 
1  and  metaphysics  as  a  learned,  lucid,  and  skillful  repre- 
sentative of  the  neo-Kantian  or  "critical  idealistic"  point  of 
viewj  no  one  can  deny  the  competence  with  which  he  reviews 
"the  problem  of  knowledge  in  the  science  and  philosophy  of  the 
modern  age,"  expounding,  quoting,  and  criticizing  innumer- 
able authors,  himself  always  firmly  anchored  in  the  critical 
idealism  of  the  Marburg  School.  In  what  follows  I  undertake, 
with  all  becoming  diffidence,  to  make  explicit  certain  difficulties 
which  I  find,  not  so  much  in  Cassirer's  writings  as  such,  but  in 
the  point  of  view  of  idealism  itself.  The  learned  material 
which  Cassirer  presents,  the  information  concerning  mathe- 
matics and  physics  from  Galileo  and  Cusanus  down  to  Einstein 
and  the  quantum  theory,  is  after  all  susceptible  of  more  than  one 
interpretation  5  just  as  scripture  supports  various  systems  of 
theology,  so  science  does  not  oblige  a  philosopher  to  embrace 
either  idealism  or  realism.  Cassirer's  assemblage  of  historical 
material,  which  he  so  eloquently  and  persuasively  interprets 
in  the  light  of  Kantianism,  could  be  interpreted  in  the  light  of 
realism,  were  there  a  sufficiently  learned  and  skillful  realistic 
philosopher  who  was  willing  to  undertake  the  task.  Naturally, 
in  such  a  wide-spread  application  of  the  historico-critical 
method,  Cassirer  has  had  to  leave  behind  most  of  the  scholastic 
architectonic,  which  Kant  offered  to  the  world  as  never  to  be 
changed  5  the  modern  disciple  merely  retains  a  "point  of  view," 
which  is,  as  a  matter  of  fact,  extremely  difficult  to  reduce  to  a 
few  definite  assertions.  The  Kantian  "thing-in-itself"  has  dis- 
appeared and  with  it  that  vestige  of  realism,  which  was  always 

123 


124  WILLIAM  CURTIS  SWABEY 

in  the  back  of  Kant's  mind:  the  a  priori  has  become  fluid  and 
indefinite.  The  old  opposition  to  metaphysics,  on  the  one 
hand,  and  to  empiricism,  on  the  other,  remains.  Emphasis  is 
placed  on  relations,  especially  upon  those  involved  in  serial 
order. 

The  comments  which  follow  will  be  made  in  the  name  of 
metaphysics.  By  metaphysics  I  understand  a  theory  of  being 
in  general,  a  science  which  would  deal  with  the  fundamental 
types  of  being  and  reality.  It  would  take  its  stand  on  the  in- 
escapable ontological  claims  of  all  our  thought  and  speech. 
I  do  not,  however,  understand  by  metaphysics  a  discipline 
which  would  deal  primarily  with  those  problems  which  Kant 
dealt  with  under  the  caption  Transcendental  Dialectic;  it  may 
be  true  that  a  degree  of  agnosticism  is  indeed  the  proper  attitude 
with  regard  to  the  dogmas  of  the  metaphysics  of  religion; 
metaphysics,  as  I  understand  it,  is  not  to  be  understood  as 
primarily  the  science  of  the  meta-empirical  (and  consequently 
the  un verifiable),  but  rather  as  that  science  which  clarifies  the 
fundamental  ontological  claims  of  our  thought.  It  is  my  opinion 
that  metaphysics,  in  this  sense,  is  led  to  a  standpoint  of  dualistic 
realism,  a  standpoint  which  is  perhaps  not  final,  but  which  is 
at  any  rate  the  only  natural  way  of  thinking.  The  dualism  of 
Descartes  and  Locke,  although  encumbered  with  many  dubious 
assertions  in  each  case,  still  seems  to  me  the  philosophy  which 
is  most  clearly  suggested  by  our  common  ways  of  talking;  it  is 
perhaps  in  the  end  the  only  intelligible  system,  or,  if  it  too 
conceals  some  insoluble  problems,  it  is  the  least  unintelligible 
system.  By  dualistic  realism  I  mean  a  system  which  posits  a 
world  of  bodies  and  minds  in  continual  interaction.  Bodies  are 
self-existent  entities  with  spatial  attributes;  minds  are  non- 
spatial  beings  which  continually  interact  with  bodies  and  fur- 
thermore know  them  both  by  perception  and  in  other  more 
elaborate  and  indirect  ways.  Dualistic  realism  seems  to  the 
idealist  utterly  unworthy  of  philosophy;  for  him,  it  is  common- 
place, if  not  downright  vulgar;  he  would  prefer  to  leave 
behind  mere  things  and  delve  into  the  mysteries  of  symbolism 
and  the  super-sensuous  regions.  The  realist,  although  sharing 
to  some  extent  the  aspirations  of  the  idealist,  nevertheless  puts 


CASSIRER  AND  METAPHYSICS  125 

common  sense  clarity  and  intelligibility  first,  in  his  list  of  philo- 
sophic values,  and  views  mathematics  as  a  dubious  guide  with 
regard  to  problems  of  being  and  real  existence.  The  idealist  of 
the  type  of  Cassirer  does  not  regard  natural  science  as  con- 
cerned with  a  self-existent  nature.  On  the  contrary,  nature  is 
the  product  of  a  synthesis  of  sensations  and  the  history  of 
science  is  a  process  in  which  thought  perpetually  re-creates  its 
object. 

The  attitude  of  the  criticist  is  one  of  reflection  }  he  deals  not 
with  things,  but  with  thought  about  things  j  he  lives  in  a  world 
of  second  intentions.  Thus,  such  a  philosopher  as  Cassirer  does 
not  offer  us  a  theory  of  bodies  and  minds,  or  of  universals, 
essences,  relations  and  individuals  in  general  j  he  speaks  rather 
as  a  scholar  writing  in  a  well-stocked  library  }  nature  is  for 
him  something  known  only  indirectly,  primarily  through  the 
books  of  scientists}  it  is  an  object  postulated  and  described 
by  a  series  of  authorities.  Ultimately  it  exists  only  in  their 
minds  j  it  undergoes,  in  the  advance  of  science,  modifications 
making  for  greater  extensiveness  and  unity.  Cassirer,  it  is  true, 
has  come  to  recognize  points  of  view  other  than  that  of 
science}  namely,  the  standpoints  of  language  and  myth.  Never- 
theless the  world  exists,  for  the  critical  idealist,  primarily  as 
an  object  of  consciousness.  In  the  end,  I  presume,  it  will  be 
found  to  exist  only  in  the  minds  of  historians}  they,  in  turn, 
will  exist  only  in  each  other's  minds.  Being  is  everlastingly 
dependent  upon  being  known.  My  thesis  is  that  the  attitude 
of  critical  idealism  cannot  consistently  be  maintained}  thought 
always  claims  to  know  an  independent  reality  (or  at  least  be- 
ing)} and  a  consistent  philosophy  can  only  be  reached  by 
following  out  the  ontological  claims  of  our  unsophisticated 
thinking. 

The  sub-title  of  Cassirer's  Substanzbegriff  und  Funktions- 
be griff  is:  Untersuchungen  iiber  die  Grundfragen  der  Erkennt- 
niskritik.  The  phrase  Erkenntniskritik,  or  "critique  of  knowl- 
edge," is  worthy  of  our  attention.  How  can  knowledge  be 
criticized?  If  knowledge  is  knowledge  it  knows  its  objects  as 
they  sre.  The  knowledge  which  can  be  destroyed  by  criticism 
is  not  true  knowledge}  it  is  mere  seeming  knowledge  and 


126  WILLIAM  CURTIS  SWABEY 

nothing  can  replace  such  false  knowledge  save  true  knowledge. 
Critique  of  knowledge  must  mean  a  criticism  of  certain  sciences 
as  they  actually  exist,  in  which  it  is  shown  that  they  use  con- 
venient fictions  and  are  thus  not  literally  true.  Still  this  is  a 
criticism  of  historically  existing  sciences  and  not  of  knowledge 
as  such.  How  can  one  criticize  the  sciences  without  in  some  way 
knowing?  One  would,  otherwise,  have  no  way  of  being  aware 
of  the  shortcomings  of  the  disciplines  he  was  attempting  to 
criticize. 

It  is  characteristic  of  the  critical  standpoint  which  Cassirer 
consistently  occupies  that  metaphysics  is  regarded  as  obsolete. 
As  Cassirer  uses  the  word,  metaphysics  is  merely  a  name  for 
certain  bad  habits  of  thought  inherited  from  a  crude  and  unen- 
lightened past.  In  this  Cassirer  is  in  agreement  with  the  prag- 
matists  and  positivists.  But  philosophers  are  not  to  be  left 
without  any  employment  at  all;  they  may  study  "critique  of 
knowledge."  They  may  pore  over  the  treatises  of  mathema- 
ticians and  physicists  and  note  the  methods  used  and  the  funda- 
mental trends.  Yet  it  cannot  be  said  that  Cassirer,  in  the 
chapters  he  has  devoted  to  mathematics,  physics,  and  chemistry, 
writes  merely  as  an  historian  of  science.  An  account  of  these 
sciences,  taken  merely  as  offered  in  the  works  of  scientists, 
would  generally  be  in  realistic  terms;  such  an  account,  made 
into  philosophy,  would  be  what  is  called  materialism  or  mech- 
anism. But  Cassirer  is  an  idealist;  he  thinks  of  the  sciences  as 
dealing  with  "experience."  What  a  strange  object  is  experience! 
It  is  neither  a  body  nor  a  set  of  bodies,  neither  a  mind  nor  a  set 
of  minds.  From  the  standpoint  of  dualism  experience  is  the 
result  of  the  interaction  of  mind  and  body;  our  bodies  are 
affected  by  external  things  in  various  ways  and  our  brains, 
parts  of  our  bodies,  affect,  according  to  certain  laws  of  psycho- 
physical  correspondence,  our  minds;  the  result  is  what  we 
call  experience.  Experience  is  not  as  such  the  object  of  knowl- 
edge; it  is  better  to  say  that  we  know  material  things  and 
minds  (including  our  own)  by  means  of  experience.  To  make 
"experience"  the  all-inclusive  object  is  itself  a  form  of  meta- 
physics; it  inescapably  commits  us  to  idealism.  Or,  if  we  sup- 
pose that  the  intention  is  merely  to  deny  the  ontological  validity 


CASSIRER  AND  METAPHYSICS  127 

which  science  naturally  claims  for  its  assertions,  still  such 
denial  implies  that  philosophy  possesses,  at  least  in  general 
terms,  a  knowledge  of  what  is,  of  being.  The  traditional  name 
of  the  branch  of  philosophy  which  deals  with  the  fundamental 
types  of  being  is  metaphysics.  My  contention  is  that  every  phi- 
losophy, even  that  sort  which  makes  a  point  of  repudiating  meta- 
physics, involves  some  theory,  however  obscure,  of  the  nature 
of  being  as  such.  The  criticist  himself  deals  with  metaphysical 
problems,  but  in  an  indirect  and  inconsistent  fashion. 

If  we  start  from  the  world  as  given  to  us  in  daily  life  and 
common  language,  we  easily  distinguish  between  bodies  and 
minds.  We  find  a  world  of  bodies  characterized  by  size,  shape, 
and  state  of  motion  or  rest,  having  a  continuous  existence  in 
contrast  to  the  coming  and  going  of  our  perception,  and  dis- 
playing regularity  of  behavior.  But  there  are  also  minds  which 
have  sensations,  thoughts,  and  feelings ;  by  means  of  these 
sensations  and  thoughts  we  somehow  know  bodies  and  are  in 
continual  interaction  with  them;  now  it  is  true  that,  if  we 
regard  knowledge  as  a  matter  of  being  affected  from  without, 
we  are  likely  to  conclude  that  we  know  only  our  own  sensa- 
tions. But  the  causal  theory  of  sensation  itself  presupposes 
.knowledge  of  an  external  world.  This  world,  by  acting  upon 
our  organisms,  engenders  an  awareness  of  sense-qualities.  The 
idealist  abandons  the  external  material  world  on  the  basis  of 
facts  drawn  from  that  world  itself;  the  realist  feels  that  the 
path  of  true  philosophy  consists  in  following  the  fundamental 
ontological  assumptions.  As  an  historian,  Cassirer  postulates 
a  common  sense  world  in  which  such  persons  as  Leibniz,  New- 
ton and  Kant  really  existed  as  psycho-physical  beings.  And  yet, 
like  Kant,  Cassirer  is  an  idealist.  Locke  had  laid  the  foundations 
of  a  dualistic  outlook;  but,  by  thinking  of  the  immediate  object 
or  idea  as  "in  the  mind,"  he  prepared  the  way  for  Berkeley, 
Hume,  and  Kant.  The  world  of  bodies  lost  its  absoluteness 
and  substantiality.  Physical  nature  came  to  be  replaced  by 
experience  taken  substantively.  But  what  definite  conception 
can  we  form  of  experience?  We  know  that  neither  Kant  nor  his 
modern  disciple  would  plead  guilty  to  any  simple  form  of 
Berkeleyanism  (such  as  that  recently  outlined  by  Professor 


128  WILLIAM  CURTIS  SWABEY 

Stace),1  which  would  reduce  the  world  to  spirits  and  their  sense- 
data,  following  one  another  according  to  inexplicable  laws. 

Cassirer's  discussions  of  -logic,  mathematics,  physics,  and 
chemistry,  emphasize  the  importance  of  judgment  in  discover- 
ing relations.  In  general  he  is  antagonistic  to  any  purely  em- 
pirical account  of  mathematical  or  scientific  conceptions.  The 
great  object  of  science  is  relations,  especially  those  giving  rise 
to  serial  orders.  Relations,  he  holds,  are  not  given  to  the  senses, 
but  are  evidence  of  the  comparative  and  postulational  activity 
of  the  mind.  But  it  is  precisely  here  that  difficulties  appear. 
Kant  sharply  distinguishes  between  what  "comes  in  from 
without"  and  the  mind's  own  contribution.  From  the  stand- 
point of  realism,  however,  it  is  obvious  that  the  mind  cannot 
produce  relations  between  things  which  are  not  already  related  } 
thus,  if  two  things  are  correctly  judged  to  be  similar  or  differ- 
ent, it  must  be  because  they  are  already  similar  or  different, 
etc.  Kant  thought  of  the  mind  as  "receiving"  the  "raw  material 
of  sense"  from  "outside}"  but  this  is  all  built  upon  a  dubious 
metaphor.  Let  me  indicate  how,  as  I  suppose,  the  matter  would 
stand  from  the  standpoint  of  psycho-physical  dualism.  We 
postulate  a  brain  as  well  as  a  mind}  the  latter  is  really  merely  a 
series  of  thoughts.  When  the  brain  is  stimulated  in  certain  ways 
sensa  appear  or  occur}  they  occur,  however,  in  relation  to  other 
sensa  which  are  either  actually  present  or  belong  to  the  recent 
or  remote  past}  we  experience  sensa  as  simultaneous  or  succes- 
sive, similar  or  different.  When  the  brain  is  stimulated  probably 
a  considerable  area  is  affected}  old  "traces"  and  habits  are  re- 
activated and  the  mind  finds  itself  perceiving  a  real  thing  in 
a  world  of  material  things.  In  all  this  there  is  no  more  occa- 
sion to  think  of  relations  as  creatures  of  pure  consciousness  or 
of  a  transcendental  mind  than  there  is  to  think  of  the  sensa 
themselves  in  such  a  way.  What  we  know  is  merely  that  per- 
ception of  things  occurs;  the  categorial  interpretation  as  well 
as  the  data  are  the  psychic  accompaniments  of  brain-processes. 
Thus  the  brain  or  the  laws  of  psycho-physical  correspondence 
may  take  the  place  of  the  transcendental  ego  and  its  super- 
natural spontaneity.  But,  at  the  same  time,  we  must  maintain 

1  Stace,  W.  T.,  The  'Nature  of  the  World  (Princeton  University  Press,  1940). 


CASSIRER  AND  METAPHYSICS  129 

also  our  essential  doctrine  that  such  perception,  even  though 
occurring  under  such  psycho-physical  laws,  is  still  perception, 
a  revelation  of  what  is.2  A  psychological  theory,  whether  it 
comes  under  such  transcendental  psychology  as  Kant  gives  us 
or  such  physiological  psychology  as  has  just  been  suggested, 
nevertheless  merely  tells  us  under  what  conditions  we  come 
to  know  a  part  of  the  real  world.  But  the  idealist  thinks  of 
"synthetic  activity"  as  creating  a  second  world  within  the  mind, 
which  in  turn  soon  becomes  the  one  real  world. 

In  the  first  chapter  of  Substance  and  Function  Cassirer  re- 
views the  theories  of  ancient  and  modern  logicians  concerning 
the  concept;  the  general  trend  of  his  discussion  may  be  de- 
scribed by  saying  that  he  finds  the  traditional  class-concept  to 
be  in  process  of  being  supplanted  by  a  new  form  of  concept, 
which  is  that  of  serial  order.  Modern  mathematical  science  no 
longer  views  nature  as  made  up  of  things  or  substances;  it  is 
primarily  concerned  with  relations,  and  these  relations  give  rise 
to  series  of  points,  numbers,  instants,  etc.  Hence  Cassirer  holds 
that  the  form  of  the  concept  which  is  fruitful  for  modern 
mathematical  science  is  no  longer  the  generic  concept  which 
merely  expresses  what  a  number  of  pre-existent  entities  have 
in  common,  but  rather  the  "principle  of  serial  order,"  which, 
once  assumed,  "generates"  the  individuals  which  conform  to  it. 
Against  this  view,  I  would  suggest  the  following  objections. 
Cassirer  is  mistaken  if  he  imagines  that  such  "principles"  can 
ever  take  the  place  of  class-concepts.  For  a  serial  order  pre- 
supposes a  group  of  entities  which  are  ordered,  whether  real  or 
unreal,  such  as  points,  numbers,  colors,  temperatures,  etc.  We 
can  only  refer  to  these  elements  by  means  of  concepts  in  the 
traditional  sense.  Furthermore,  a  principle  of  serial  order  is 
not  a  concept  at  all;  it  is  a  proposition.  Thus,  of  a  row  of 
soldiers,  I  may  be  able  to  say  that  each  man  is  taller  than  the 
one  before  him.  This  is  a  mere  description  of  given  individuals, 
but  it  is  expressed  in  a  proposition.  In  mathematics  I  may 
grandly  postulate  a  series  of  unreal  entities,  such  that  each  one 
is  related  to  the  preceding  one  in  a  certain  way;  still  here  too 

2  Cf.  Sellars,  R.  W.,  The  Philosophy  of  Physical  Realism  (New  York,  Mac- 
inillan,  1932),  70. 


130  WILLIAM  CURTIS  SWABEY 

the  principle  of  serial  order  is  not  what  is  commonly  called  a 
concept.  Or,  consider  such  relations  as  similarity,  equality, 
greater  than,  etc.  How  are  relations  in  any  sense  rivals  of 
class-concepts?  Relations  are  relations,  concepts  are  concepts, 
but  of  course  there  are  concepts  of  relations  and  relations  of 
concepts.  Here  I  shall  venture  a  definition.  Concepts  are  uni- 
versals  connected  with  words  as  their  meanings}  universals  are 
potentially  recurrent  features  of  either  real  or  unreal  entities. 
They  are  capable  of  appearing  more  than  once  (cf.  blue,  square, 
etc.})  while  individuals  are  unique  beings  which  occur  once  and 
once  only.  Individual  things  may  be  unreal,  e.g.,  points,  in- 
stants, geometrically  perfect  bodies,  etc.}  but  all  such  things 
have,  with  reference  to  concepts,  what  is  called  their  essence, 
which  consists  of  those  properties  which  entitle  them  to  belong  to 
a  given  class.  Thus  an  individual  man  may  be  considered  merely 
as  a  man  and  must  have  those  properties  which  warrant  us  in  so 
considering  him.  These  properties  are  said  to  constitute  the 
essence  of  man.  The  concept  of  man  has  these  properties  as  its 
connotation.  When  we  take  these  points  into  account,  it  becomes 
highly  doubtful  whether  there  is  any  justification  for  replacing 
the  class-concept  by  a  "principle  of  serial  order." 

Everything  to  which  we  can  refer  has  its  concept,  points, 
instants,  numbers,  relations,  as  well  as  the  types  of  plant  and 
animal.  Thus,  if  we  speak  of  circles  or  triangles  or  of  numbers, 
of  variables,  or  of  series,  we  do  so  by  means  of  words,  which 
have  the  traditional  type  of  class-concept  as  their  meanings.  It  is 
true  that  all  members  of  a  class  are  similar  to  each  other  in 
certain  respects;  nevertheless  similarity  alone  does  not  define  a 
class  (since  the  members  of  all  classes  are  similar  to  other  mem- 
bers of  their  respective  classes)  unless  we  tell  wherein  the 
members  are  similar,  and  this  can  be  done  only  by  mentioning 
the  feature  that  all  the  members  of  the  class  have  in  common. 
This  common  element  may  be  either  determinate  or  determi- 
nable.  Thus  color  is  a  determinable  feature  and  can  occur  in 
actuality  only  when  rendered  perfectly  specific,  namely,  as 
this  nuance  of  this  particular  color.  When  the  common  element 
is  determinable  it  demands  supplementation;  nevertheless,  we 
cannot  deny  that  all  the  things  named  by  a  generic  term  have 


CASSIRER  AND  METAPHYSICS  131 

something  in  common}  this  is  a  universal  and  may  belong  to 
the  essence  of  those  individuals.  This  doctrine,  however,  im- 
plies nothing  which  would  minimize  the  importance  of  rela- 
tions. Still,  it  is  true  that  the  relations  of  a  thing  do  not  make 
it  what  it  is,  that  is,  do  not  belong  to  its  essence.  Thus  a  lamp 
or  a  shoe  is  what  it  is  by  virtue  of  its  definitive  properties, 
without  regard  to  when  or  where  it  is,  by  whom  manufactured 
or  to  what  use  it  is  put.  It  should  be  remarked,  however,  that 
nothing  has  an  essence  save  with  reference  to  some  defining 
concept.  Thus,  if  a  lamp  is  no  longer  regarded  as  a  lamp  but 
as  a  piece  of  metal  it  is  said  to  have  a  different  essence. 
Furthermore,  nothing  can  lose  its  essence  without  being  annihi- 
lated; if  the  lamp  is  thrown  into  a  furnace  and  melted,  it  ceases 
to  exist  as  a  lamp.  The  properties  of  water  as  water  do  not 
change  when  water  is  frozen  or  vaporized  or  made  to  stand 
upright  in  a  glass  tumbler;  its  nature  includes  the  facts  that 
it  will  evaporate  when  heated,  solidify  when  chilled,  stand  up- 
right when  enclosed  in  a  glass,  etc.  Thus  the  essence  of  a  sub- 
stance is  not  affected  by  its  relations  to  other  things;  if  we  con- 
sider water  solely  as  a  liquid,  then  we  know  from  experience 
that  it  continues  to  exist  as  a  liquid  only  as  long  as  a  certain 
range  of  temperatures  persists;  if  these  temperatures  pass  be- 
yond certain  limits,  liquid  water  is  annihilated.  Thus,  whether 
a  thing  exists  or  not  depends  on  its  relations,  but  its  essence 
is  not  so  dependent.  There  is,  therefore,  a  good  meaning  in 
the  old  doctrine  that  relations  are  all  extra-essential,  the  only 
exceptions  being  found  in  those  cases  in  which  things  are  named 
by  the  relations  in  which  they  stand;  husband,  captain,  servant, 
etc.  The  chief  point  which  I  wish  to  make  is  that  the  logic  of 
the  concept  and  essence  applies  to  all  things,  including  points, 
instants,  numbers,  propositions,  and  relations;  it  can  by  no 
means  be  replaced  by  "functional  relations"  or  "principles  of 
serial  order."  Thus,  beings  may  stand  in  serial  relations,  but 
they  must  have  their  essence  prior  to  and  apart  from  their 
relations;  this  is  because  we  are  dealing,  in  our  statements 
about  essence,  merely  with  entities  as  such.  Numbers,  points, 
instants  and  the  rest  must  be  entities  before  they  can  stand  in 
relations  to  each  other. 


132  WILLIAM  CURTIS  SWABEY 

Cassirer  is  in  general  an  advocate  of  a  "logical"  theory  of 
number;  but  he  rejects  the  emphasis  upon  the  correspondence 
of  classes  characteristic  of  Frege  and  Russell.  His  fundamental 
aim  is  to  vindicate  the  priority  of  serial  order  as  a  basis  for 
mathematical  science.  His  theory  is  therefore  the  opposite  of 
that  which  defines  number  in  terms  of  equivalent  classes.  Two 
groups  are  said,  according  to  Russell,  "to  belong  to  the  same 
number"  when  there  is  a  relation  of  possible  co-ordination  be- 
tween the  members  of  the  two  groups.  Cassirer's  opinion  that 
the  definition  of  number  as  a  class  of  classes  by  no  means 
corresponds  to  the  meanings  of  the  names  of  numbers  in  daily 
life  seems  to  be  sound.  "The  'how  many'  of  the  elements,  in 
the  ordinary  sense,  can  be  changed  by  no  logical  transformation 
into  a  bare  assertion  concerning  'just  as  many'."3  Cassirer  him- 
self advocates  an  ordinal  theory  of  numbers  according  to  which 
"the  individual  number  never  means  anything  by  itself  alone" 
and  "a  fixed  value  is  only  ascribed  to  it  by  its  position  in  a  total 
system."4  According  to  the  "cardinal"  theory,  to  which  Cassirer 
is  opposed,  "the  members  (of  the  number  series)  are  deter- 
mined as  the  common  properties  of  certain  classes  before  any- 
thing whatever  has  been  established  as  to  their  relation  of 
sequence.  Yet  in  truth  it  is  precisely  in  the  element  here  at 
first  excluded  that  the  peculiar  numerical  character  is  rooted."5 
This  is  Cassirer's  statement  of  his  view.  The  philosophy  of 
number  is  a  matter  concerning  which  a  non-mathematician 
may  well  be  cautious.  Perhaps  I  shall  not  be  wrong,  if  I  call 
attention  to  a  principle  which  is  rather  generally  accepted, 
namely,  that  we  gain  insight  into  the  meaning  of  even  the  most 
general  propositions  only  by  analysis  of  particular  illustrative 
cases.  In  application  to  the  problem  of  number  it  is  difficult 
to  see  how  mathematicians  or  anyone  else  can  understand  any- 
thing whatever  save  with  reference  to  relations  which  are 
actually  given  in  sensuous  experience.  I  can  well  believe  that 

1  Cassirer,  Ernst,  Substance  and  Function,  (Swabey  tr.,  Open  Court  Publishing- 
Company,  Chicago,  1923),  48.  Since  most  of  my  quotations  from  Cassirer's  writ- 
ings will  be  from  this  particular  volume,  I  shall  hereafter  abbreviate  it :  SF. 

4 1  bid. 

*lbid. 


CASSIRER  AND  METAPHYSICS  133 

in  the  case  of  ordinary  calculation  blind  symbol-manipulation 
takes  the  place  of  "intuitive"  understanding,  and  there  is  no 
reason  why  it  should  not;  mathematics  is,  on  the  whole,  a 
technique  for  dealing  with  relations  far  too  complex  for  us 
to  understand.  Nevertheless,  the  basis  of  mathematics  must  be 
in  the  relation  of  small  numbers  which  can  easily  be  grasped. 
The  relations  of  small  numbers  may  be  illustrated  by  sense- 
data  and  those  of  the  larger  numbers  understood  by  analogy 
with  the  smaller  ones.  Taking  its  start  from  simple  sensuous 
experiences  the  mind  conceives  and  postulates  an  infinite  system 
of  numbers  5  number  is  given  to  sensuous  experience  as  the 
form-quality  of  a  group  of  entities.  Three-ness  is  a  quality  of 
each  and  every  group  of  three,  etc.  Now  it  is  true  that  numbers 
form  a  series,  a  series  stretching  to  infinity.  My  point,  with 
regard  to  Cassirer's  theory  of  number,  is  that  the  "principle" 
or  "form"  of  the  series  cannot  be  understood  save  by  reference 
to  its  individual  members,  which  must  be  given  before  "the 
principle  of  the  series"  can  be  understood.  If  we  say  that  a  given 
number  can  only  be  understood  in  its  relations  to  all  other 
numbers,  it  follows  that  no  number  can  be  understood;  for  the 
series  of  numbers  can  never  be  given  as  a  whole.  If,  therefore, 
to  understand  "3"  it  were  necessary  to  understand  all  the  num- 
bers, the  task  would  be  an  impossible  one.  But  knowing  what 
i,  2,  and  3,  etc.,  are,  as  patterns  or  form-qualities,  with  refer- 
ence to  small  groups,  we  see  that  they  are  capable  of  being 
arranged  in  a  series  such  that  each  number  is  equal  to  the 
preceding  number  plus  one.  But,  if  I  did  not  know  what  num- 
bers were  and  had  no  notions  of  addition,  equality,  etc.,  I  could 
form  no  idea  of  such  a  series  or  its  principles.  The  elementary 
number-equations  seem  to  be  related  to  a  fact  of  experience, 
namely,  that  the  same  group  can  always  be  taken  in  different 
ways.  Thus  six  apples  can  be  taken  by  the  mind  as  one  group, 
or,  in  various  ways,  as  two  or  three  groups:  the  fact  that  these 
transformations  are  always  possible  is  so  easily  verified  that 
it  is  natural  to  suppose  that  the  laws  of  arithmetic  are  a  priori. 
They  may,  however,  be  regarded  as  well-established  generali- 
zations based  on  easy  and  oft-repeated  mental  experiments. 


134  WILLIAM  CURTIS  SWABEY 

It  is  quite  true  that  such  numbers  as  zero,  fractions,  and 
those  which  are  labelled  negative,  irrational,  and  imaginary 
are  not  "funded  qualities"  of  given  groups;  they  require  a 
more  involved  derivation.  Fundamentally,  however,  the  point 
must  be  insisted  upon  that  these  are  not  numbers  in  the  original 
sense  of  the  word;  they  are  rather  fictions  or  quasi-numbers, 
which  could  never  be  understood  did  we  not  have  definite  con- 
cepts of  the  small  integers,  y*  represents  a  division  which  can- 
not be  carried  out;  the  symbol  is  meaningful  only  because  we 
are  ready  to  substitute  for  the  abstract  concept  of  pure  unity 
the  concept  of  distance  or  area  or  material  object.  In  the  same 
way,  to  understand  -2  we  go  beyond  the  notion  of  number  to 
that  of  a  series  having  direction.  According  to  Dedekind,  irra- 
tional numbers  are  "cuts,"  or  divisions  in  the  number-series. 
"The  'cuts'  may  be  said  to  be  numbers,"  says  Cassirer,  "since 
they  form  among  themselves  a  strictly  ordered  manifold  in 
which  the  relative  position  of  the  elements  is  determined  accord- 
ing to  a  conceptual  rule."6  But  there  is  here  a  point  which 
calls  for  comment.  Words  may  change  their  meanings,  but 
meanings  themselves  do  not  change.  A  new  concept  of  number 
is  only  a  new  meaning  attached  to  an  old  word.  The  point  I 
would  make  is  that,  whereas  irrational  numbers  may  be  in  some 
sense  as  good  as  other  numbers,  i.e.,  they  may  conform  to 
certain  laws,  still  they  are  not  numbers  in  the  original  sense 
of  the  word.  Unless  we  start  with  what  Frege  scornfully  re- 
ferred to  as  "pebbles  and  gingerbread  nuts,"  i.e.,  with  that  con- 
ception of  number,  of  "how  many,"  which  the  child  applies  to 
his  fingers  and  toes,  we  cannotjunderstand  the  new  extended 
sense  of  the  word  in  which  V2  may  be  said  to  be  a  number. 
The  technical  kinds  of  number  are  not  numbers  in  the  primary 
sense  of  the  word,  and  they  can  only  be  defined  in  terms  of 
experience  in  roundabout  ways,  as,  for  example,  imaginary 
completions  of  processes,  which  cannot  in  fact  be  completed. 
A  number  is  a  quality  of  a  finite  group;  an  infinite  number  is, 
on  the  face  of  it,  something  inconceivable,  or  even  self-contra- 
dictory. Cassirer  would  say  that  we  grasp  an  infinite  series 
when  we  know  the  law  by  which  it  is  generated.  I  would  say, 

9SF,  61. 


CASSIRER  AND  METAPHYSICS  135 

however,  that  we  know  that  law  only  in  terms  of  the  relations 
of  small  whole  numbers;  these  relations  seem  to  me  to  be 
simply  given  in  the  same  elementary  way  in  which  the  sense- 
qualities  are  given;  there  seems  no  point  in  speaking,  as  Kant 
did,  of  a  dual  origination  of  sense-qualities  "coming  in  from 
the  outside"  and  relations  having  the  more  noble  characteristic 
of  having  been  generated  in  the  mind.  From  the  standpoint  of 
physiological  psychology,  both  qualities  and  relations  originate 
within  the  mind  on  the  occasion  of  the  activation  of  the  brain; 
from  the  standpoint  of  realistic  epistemology,  relations  hold 
between  material  things,  whether  or  not  these  relations  are 
known  by  any  mind. 

A  question  of  prime  importance  for  the  understanding  of 
Cassirer's  position  is  concerned  with  the  meaning  to  be  attached 
to  the  phrase  a  priori.  I  presume  that  the  meaning  which  most 
philosophers  would  give  to  the  term  would  be  simply  the 
intuitively  certain.  Thus  the  multiplication  table  and  the  axioms 
of  Euclid  are  commonly  regarded  as  at  least  legitimate  examples 
of  what  was  formerly  regarded  as  a  priori.  The  a  priori  in  this 
sense  cannot  change;  it  is  capable  of  becoming  intuitively  cer- 
tain to  all  who  understand  the  meaning  of  the  propositions. 
Man  may  be  mistaken  as  to  what  is  self-evident;  but  the  rule 
holds  that  "once  self-evident,  always  self-evident."  If  a  prin- 
ciple is  at  a  later  time  discovered  not  to  be  self-evident,  this 
implies  that  the  earlier  thinkers  were  mistaken  in  regarding  the 
principle  as  self-evident.  Thus,  if  the  "axioms"  of  geometry 
are  not,  in  the  light  of  modern  thought,  self-evident,  they  were 
not  so  in  the  days  of  Kant,  either,  although  he  falsely  thought 
that  they  were.  The  a  priori  then  admits  of  no  variation.  Kant 
claimed  this  sort  of  truth  not  only  for  the  axioms  of  Euclidean 
geometry  but  for  his  whole  transcendental  system  as  well.  Mod- 
ern mathematical  science,  however,  no  longer  recognizes  the 
unique  authority  of  Euclidean  geometry;  it  recognizes  other 
systems  which  it  offers  impartially  to  physics;  this  science 
chooses,  for  certain  purposes,  a  non-Euclidean  system;  indeed, 
no  one  has  given  a  more  lucid  account  of  this  whole  develop- 
ment than  Cassirer  himself  in  his  essay,  Einstein's  Theory  of 
Relativity.  How,  then,  can  one  still  defend  the  a  priori?  The 


136  WILLIAM  CURTIS  SWABEY 

answer  is,  only  by  changing  the  meaning  of  the  term  and 
ascribing  this  new  meaning  to  Kant  as  his  "deeper  meaning." 
And  if  this  is  done  it  becomes  a  real  question  whether  rational- 
ism differs  significantly  from  empiricism.  Cassirer  emphasizes 
the  "active,"  "synthetic,"  and  "relating"  functions  of  the  mind 
as  opposed  to  the  passive  receptivity  of  sense-perception.  The 
mind  exercises  its  intellectual  functions  and  in  this  consists  its 
a  priori  character.  Yet  it  may  be  questioned  whether  this  doc- 
trine has  a  clear  meaning.  The  mind  can  only  distinguish  that 
which  is  already  different }  it  can  rightly  regard  as  similar  only 
that  which  is  already  similar,  etc.  If  we  assume,  as  dualistic 
realism  does,  a  world  of  independently  existent  things,  these 
things  must  have  numerical,  spatial,  and  causal  relations.  The 
mind  cannot  create  these  relations.  Or,  if  we  retreat  to  a 
Berkeleyan  world  of  bodiless  spirits,  there  will  still  be  relations 
of  one  sort  or  another  between  these  spirits.  Our  minds  are 
active  in  shifting  their  attention  from  one  object  to  another  and, 
furthermore,  in  speaking  and  in  writing}  using  words,  we 
"create  worlds,"  "weave  relations,"  "split  asunder,"  and  "re- 
combine  what  we  have  separated,"  etc.  In  the  use  of  words, 
therefore,  we  are  no  doubt  creative}  but  it  is  difficult  to  see 
how  our  "judgmental  activity"  can  actually  either  affect  or 
create  things  or  relations. 

However,  let  us  return  to  the  subject  of  space.  Cassirer,  in 
Substance  and  Functlony  quotes  with  approval  the  view  of  Well- 
stein  that  Kant's  intuitive  theory  of  mathematics  was  a  "resid- 
uum of  sensualism  still  attached  to  the  Kantian  idealism."7 
The  new  mathematics,  Cassirer  believes,  brings  out  the  logical 
rather  than  the  empirical  character  of  pure  mathematics.  Now 
this  opinion  seems  to  be  widespread  if  not  universal  among 
students  of  modern  mathematics.  We  may  sum  up  the  matter 
by  saying  that,  in  so  far  as  mathematics  is  a  logically  necessary 
system  of  deductions,  it  is  certain  but  not  true}  in  so  far  as  it  is 
true,  it  is  not  certain  a  priori.  It  was  only  Kant's  extraordinary 
invention  of  an  a  priori  sensibility  which  was  compatible  with  the 
supposed  character  of  Euclidean  geometry,  namely,  that  it  was 
both  a  priori  and  true  of  real  things.  It  is  interesting  to  recall 

1  SF,  1 06. 


CASSIRER  AND  METAPHYSICS  137 

here  the  view  of  geometry  which  Hume  propounds  in  his 
Treatise  of  Human  Nature.  He  tells  us  that  in  geometry  "we 
ought  not  to  look  for  the  utmost  precision  and  exactness.  None 
of  its  proofs  extend  so  far.  It  takes  the  dimensions  and  propor- 
tions of  figures  justly;  but  roughly,  and  with  some  liberty."8 
For  Hume  the  only  possible  criteria  of  existential  truth  were 
sense-data,  and  sense-data  are  often  compatible  with  several 
geometrical  propositions.  Modern  geometry  may  well  be,  as 
Cassirer  says,  a  purely  logical  system  dealing  with  postulated 
relations  in  an  abstract  manifold;  this,  however,  is  not  the  ele- 
mentary geometry  of  the  older  thinkers;  with  regard  to  that 
(elementary)  system  events  seem  to  have  shown  that  Hume, 
who  was  no  great  admirer  of  mathematics,  was  more  nearly 
correct  than  Kant,  who  earnestly  sought  to  eternalize  the 
mathematical  science  of  his  time  by  giving  it  a  transcendental 
foundation. 

Metaphysics  deals  with  problems  of  an  entirely  different 
order.  It  deals  with  the  nature  of  being  and  of  real  existence, 
if  the  two  are  to  be  distinguished,  with  the  difference  between 
mind  and  matter,  universal  and  individual,  etc.,  but  without 
taking  anything  from  the  special  sciences.  But  for  Cassirer 
metaphysics  is  merely  a  name  for  certain  unfortunate  intel- 
lectual tendencies,  which  disappear  in  the  light  of  critical  phi- 
losophy. Let  us  see  what  he  has  to  say  in  the  chapter  entitled 
"The  Problem  of  Reality"  in  Substance  and  Function.  The 
fundamental  vice  of  metaphysics  is,  in  general,  that  it  sets  up, 
as  an  opposition  of  things  (Widerstreit  der  Dinge)  what  in  the 
process  of  knowledge  is  an  inseparable  unity  of  conditions.  Thus 
persistence  and  change,  unity  and  plurality,  thought  and  being 
are  falsely  opposed  to  each  other  in  the  metaphysical  approach.9 
"If  once  things  and  the  mind  become  conceptually  separated 
they  fall  into  separate  spatial  spheres,  into  an  inner  and  an  outer 
world,  between  which  there  is  no  intelligible  causal  connection." 
(271)  But  this  is  a  very  cavalier  way  of  speaking.  It  refers  to 
metaphysics  in  a  broad  condemnatory  way  without  distinguish- 

8  Hume,  Treatise  of  Human  Nature,  Book  I,  Part  2,  Section  4.  (Selby-Bigge 
ed.,  p.  45)- 
•^,237. 


138  WILLIAM  CURTIS  SWABEY 

ing  the  actual  doctrines  held  by  metaphysicians.  It  is  not  clear 
that  metaphysicians  must  fall  into  the  fallacies  named.  Mind 
and  body  may  be  entirely  distinct  from  each  other  in  essence  and 
yet  in  constant  interaction.  If  mind  is  essentially  non-spatial,  it 
cannot  be  spatially  separated  from  bodies,  since  only  what  is  in 
space  can  be  spatially  remote  from  anything  else.  Furthermore, 
the  essential  distinction  of  mind  and  body  does  not  imply  that 
mind  cannot  know  body. 

If  we  consult  immediate  experience,  wHich  is  free  from  re- 
flection, says  Cassirer,  we  find  that  it  is  wholly  without  the 
distinction  between  the  objective  and  the  subjective.  (272) 
For  such  experience  there  is  only  one  level  of  being  which  con- 
tains all  content  within  itself.  The  intellectual  experiment 
which  Cassirer  proposes  is  a  difficult  one;  just  what  are  we  to 
subtract  to  reach  "immediate  experience?"  Still,  without  chal- 
lenging the  proposition  laid  down,  we  may  point  out  that  most 
of  us  are  familiar  with  two  distinctions,  namely,  that  between 
the  objective  and  the  subjective  and  that  between  the  mental 
and  the  physical.  Thus,  another  person's  mind  is  objective,  in 
the  sense  of  really  existent,  although  wholly  mental  in  charac- 
ter. The  same  is  true  of  our  own  minds.  On  the  other  hand,  an 
hallucinatory  dragon  may  be  physical  in  nature  and  yet  unreal, 
which  is,  I  suppose,  what  Cassirer  means  by  subjective.  Even 
if  we  grant  that  the  supposed  "immediate  experience"  does  not 
contain  the  opposition  between  the  subjective  and  the  objective, 
it  might  contain  the  opposition  between  the  mental  and  the 
physical.  If  we  were  conscious  of  any  distinctions  at  all  (and 
otherwise  how  could  we  be  conscious  or  how  could  there  be 
experience?)  we  might  note  the  difference  between  sense-data 
and  the  thought  which  plays  over  them  and  calls,  as  Cassirer 
says,  some  of  them  subjective  and  others  objective.  In  fact,  if 
our  words  referring  to  the  mind  have  a  bona  fide  meaning, 
there  must  be  an  immediate  experience  by  the  mind  of  the  mind 
itself,  an  original  form  of  self-knowledge,  an  awareness  of 
awareness.  At  a  later  stage,  our  primitive  awareness  of  sense- 
data  becomes  a  perception  of  things  and  our  awareness  of  the 
activity  of  thought  becomes  an  explicit  knowledge  of  the  mind 
by  itself. 


CASSIRER  AND  METAPHYSICS  139 

But  let  us  return  to  the  contemplation  of  the  one  plane  of 
immediate  experience}  at  this  stage  all  seems  objective,  and 
hence  there  is  no  occasion  for  the  "false  metaphysical  problem" 
as  to  how  we  pass  from  the  subjective  to  the  objective.  But,  says 
Cassirer,  at  the  first  appearance  of  reflection  a  division  sets  in, 
according  to  which,  data  are  not  simply  accepted  but  are  dis- 
tinguished in  their  value.  Unique  and  fleeting  observations,  he 
says,  are  forced  into  the  background  while  typical  experiences 
which  recur  under  similar  conditions  are  emphasized.  Cassirer 
is  here  attempting  a  hypothetical  reconstruction  of  the  process 
by  which  our  belief  in  an  external  world  arises.  The  mind  sorts 
out  its  impressions  and  there  emerges  a  consciousness  of  ob- 
jective things. 

Along  with  the  loose  associative  connections  of  perceptions  united  only 
under  particular  circumstances  (as,  for  example,  under  definite  physio- 
logical conditions)  there  are  found  fixed  connections,  which  are  valid  for 
a  whole  field  of  objects  and  belong  to  this  field  independently  of  the 
differences  given  in  the  particular  place  and  time  of  observation.  We  find 
connections  which  hold  their  ground  through  all  further  experimental 
testing  and  through  apparently  contrary  instances  and  remain  steadfast 
in  the  flux  of  experience  while  others  dissolve  and  perish.  It  is  the  former 
that  we  call  "objective"  in  a  pregnant  sense,  while  we  designate  the  latter 
by  the  term  "subjective."10 

Now  none  can  doubt  that  in  the  pursuit  of  empirical  knowl- 
edge, it  is  important  to  separate  trivial  and  accidental  connec- 
tions from  those  which  are  universal  and  are  said  to  be  "essen- 
tial" and  "necessary."  But  how  is  this  connected  with  the 
distinction  between  the  subjective  and  the  objective?  It  is  a  fact, 
let  us  say,  that  on  Friday  the  I3th  I  lost  my  purse,  and  it  is  also 
a  fact  that  water  is  essential  to  life.  The  first  is  no  more  sub- 
jective than  the  second.  If,  however,  I  permitted  myself  to 
generalize  from  the  former  occurrence,  I  would  propound  a 
false  superstitious  law  of  bad  luck.  Such  a  generalization  would 
indeed  be  false  and  would  be  founded  on  inadequate  observa- 
tion. A  law  of  this  type  might  be  called  "subject! vej"  but  the 
occurrences  which  cause  some  men  to  accept  it  as  true  are  as 


HO  WILLIAM  CURTIS  SWABEY 

objective  as  any  other  occurrences.  It  seems  that  Cassirer  is  seek- 
ing to  reduce  the  distinction  between  the  subjective  and  the  ob- 
jective to  that  between  particular  events  and  universal  laws. 
But  the  former  are  as  objective  as  the  latter.  He  says: 

We  finally  call  objective,  those  elements  of  experience  which  persist 
through  all  change  in  the  here  and  now  and  on  which  rests  the  un- 
changeable character  of  experience,  while  we  ascribe  to  the  sphere  of 
subjectivity  all  that  belongs  to  this  change  itself  and  that  only  expresses 
a  determination  of  the  particular  unique  here  and  now.11 

But  this  sentence  is  obscure,  particularly  with  reference  to  the 
phrase  "elements  of  experience;"  it  might  mean  that  colors, 
sounds,  tactile  qualities,  and  the  like  are  objective,  for  they  are 
recurrent  elements  in  all  experience;  we  gather  from  the  con- 
text, however,  that  this  would  be  far  from  what  he  means.  He 
has  in  mind  laws  or  connections,  but  laws  or  connections  are 
merely  propositions  supposed  to  be  true  descriptions  of  the  way 
in  which  events  occur;  and  what  occurs  universally  is  no  more 
objective  (really  existent)  than  what  occurs  once  and  once  only. 
However,  perhaps  we  can  make  clear  what  Cassirer  means 
if  we  refer  to  the  classic  instance  of  the  wine  which  was  sweet  to 
Socrates  when  well,  but  bitter  to  Socrates  when  ill.  Should  we 
say  that  the  wine  is  objectively  sweet  because  it  is  normally 
tasted  as  sweet  by  Socrates  and  others;  while  it  is  tasted  as 
bitter  only  by  Socrates  when  he  is  ill?  This  would  be  a  way  of 
permitting  the  feelings  of  the  majority  to  function  as  the 
criterion  of  objectivity;  although  this  is  an  attractive  and  popu- 
lar answer  to  the  question,  it  seems  scarcely  well  founded;  un- 
less, perchance,  we  choose  to  define  objectivity  with  reference 
to  the  majority.  There  is  another  way  of  dealing  with  this  prob- 
lem which  commences  by  asking  us  to  define  our  terms.  Let 
us  say  that  those  features  of  bodies  are  objective  which  belong 
to  them  without  reference  to  observers.  Sweetness  is  merely  an 
effect  produced  by  bodies  acting  on  our  psycho-physical  organ- 
isms and  belongs  to  the  wine  no  more  than  does  the  bitterness, 
save  in  the  sense  that  the  wine  has  the  power  to  produce  a 
certain  sensation  in  the  minds  of  most  people.  It  is  merely  con- 


CASSIRER  AND  METAPHYSICS  141 

venient  to  name  the  wine  according  to  the  more  common  re- 
sponse. But  this  convenience  does  not  constitute  objectivity  in 
the  sense  of  real  existence,  apart  from  all  onlookers. 

Cassirer  himself  goes  on  to  mention  the  Democritean  distinc- 
tion between  the  primary  and  secondary  qualities  of  bodies.  For 
him  it  is  an  illustration  of  the  "transformation  of  objectivity 
into  subjectivity."  "The  seen  color,  the  heard  tone,  remains 
something  *realjj  only  this  reality  does  not  subsist  in  isolation 
and  for  itself,  but  results  from  the  interaction  of  the  physical 
stimulus  and  the  appropriate  organ  of  sensation."12  Similar  con- 
siderations apply  to  the  illusions  of  the  senses.  The  distinction 
between  the  subjective  and  the  objective  is  thus,  for  Cassirer, 
not  a  fixed  line  of  demarcation  but  a  moving  and  relative 
barrier,  such  that  the  same  content  of  experience  can  be  called 
subjective  and  objective,  according  as  it  is  conceived  relative 
to  different  logical  frames  of  reference. 

Sensuous  perception,  as  opposed  to  the  hallucination  and  the  dream, 
signifies  the  real  type  of  the  objective;  while  measured  by  the  schema 
of  exact  physics,  sense  perception  can  become  a  phenomenon  that  no 
longer  expresses  an  independent  property  of  things  but  only  a  subjective 
condition  of  the  observer.13 

Such  a  view  commits  us  to  a  boundless  relativism  in  which  no 
definite  distinction  can  be  drawn  between  the  mental  and  the 
physical.  The  mental  is  identified  with  the  subjective  and  un- 
real. Erkenntniskritik  thus  seems  to  involve  an  attitude  of 
intellectual  nihilism,  in  which  both  mind  and  nature  disappear 
in  a  bottomless  abyss  of  relativity. 

The  standpoint  of  dualistic  realism,  on  the  other  hand,  even 
if  not  capable  of  proof,  is  not  self-refuting.  At  an  early  stage 
men,  and  probably  animals  too,  become  conscious  of  the  thing- 
world  of  which  they  themselves  are  parts ;  they  find  themselves 
continually  interacting  with  these  things.  When  we  consider  the 
way  in  which  sensations  originate  it  becomes  probable  that  colors 
and  tones  belong  to  external  things  only  in  the  sense  that  they 
are  produced  by  them.  The  seen  color  may  be  considered  either 

"W,274. 

"^,275. 


142  WILLIAM  CURTIS  SWABEY 

as  a  predicate  of  external  things  or  in  its  own  right  5  when  taken 
in  its  own  right,  it  becomes  what  some  call  a  sense-datum  and 
others  as  essence.  In  any  case,  the  seen  color  is  not  mental  in 
the  sense  of  belonging  to  the  inner  essence  of  mind  as  con- 
sciousness or  knower;  on  the  other  hand,  it  does  not  belong  to 
nature  as  an  interacting  system  of  bodies.  Taken  merely  as  ob- 
jects by  themselves  colors,  sounds,  odors,  and  the  like  belong  to 
the  non-existent,  to  the  realm  of  being,  which  is  so  much  broader 
than  the  realm  of  existence.  Thus  the  change  which  took  place 
with  regard  to  the  secondary  qualities  need  not  be  described  as 
one  in  which  what  was  previously  thought  to  be  physical  comes 
to  be  thought  of  as  mental  5  it  may  be  described  as  a  change  in 
which  what  was  previously  thought  to  be  an  intrinsic  property 
comes  to  be  regarded  as  a  mere  relative  predicate. 

Cassirer's  approach  to  the  problem  of  knowledge  is  that  of 
a  reflective  historian  of  philosophy  and  science;  he  thus  seems 
to  avoid  any  definite  metaphysical  position  of  his  own;  never- 
theless, it  seems  fair  to  say  that  a  definite  ontological  platform 
is  involved  in  so  far  as  we  may  speak  of  Cassirer  as  an  idealist. 
This  position  is  one  of  phenomenalism.  The  things  which  we 
postulate  in  daily  life  are  posited  to  explain,  as  Hume  put  it, 
the  constancy  and  coherence  of  our  perceptions.  The  senses 
alone  do  not  show  us  a  world  of  nature,  but  our  minds  have  a 
natural  tendency  to  postulate  as  much  uniformity  as  they  can; 
sense-perception  gives  us  a  fragmentary,  incomplete  order 
which  we  make  perfect  by  the  assumption  that  things  exist  be- 
fore and  after  our  actual  perceptions.  Science  carries  the  process 
further.  The  "things"  which  it  posits  are  "metaphorical  expres- 
sions of  permanent  connections  of  phenomena  according  to  law 
and  thus  expressions  of  the  constancy  and  continuity  of  experi- 
ence itself."14  In  comment  upon  this  position,  which  Cassirer 
maintains  in  agreement  with  the  views  of  Hume  and  Kant,  it 
may  be  remarked  that  an  account  of  how  we  come  by  a  belief 
need  not  involve  the  notion  that  that  belief  is  itself  false.  To 
explain,  as  John  Stuart  Mill  did,  the  origin  of  our  belief  in  an 
external  world  does  not  imply  that  no  external  world  exists. 
In  fact,  we  may  say  that  such  an  explanation  starts  with  an 
assumption  of  the  validity  of  that  belief  in  so  far  as  there  is  talk 

14 SF,  276. 


CASSIRER  AND  METAPHYSICS  143 

of  "sensations"  or  "perceptions"  which  are  intermittent,  a 
notion  which  is  significant  only  in  contrast  to  continuously 
existent  things.  Does  the  mind  "construct"  things?  Why  should 
we  not  say  that,  on  the  occasion  of  the  occurrence  of  sensations, 
the  mind  comes  to  know  of  things  as  continuously  existent 
entities  which  interact  with  each  other  and  with  the  mind  it- 
self? 

But  let  us  seek  to  discover  the  proper  formulation  of 
Cassirer's  idealism.  Metaphysical  realism,  he  says,  postulates  an 
absolute  gap  between  the  immanent  and  the  transcendent,  and 
declares  that  there  is  no  logical  inference  by  which  we  can  pass 
from  the  former  to  the  latter.  The  realist,  he  says,  finds  it 
necessary  to  leap  the  gap  by  insisting  on  the  transcendent  refer- 
ence of  knowledge,  Cassirer  denies,  however,  that  such  con- 
siderations invalidate  his  own  form  of  critical  idealism. 

Critical  idealism,  [he  writes,]  is  distinguished  from  the  realism  here 
advocated,  not  by  denying  the  intellectual  postulate  at  the  basis  of  these 
deductions  of  the  concept  of  objective  being,  but,  conversely,  by  the  fact 
that  it  grasps  this  intellectual  postulate  more  sharply  and  demands  it  for 
every  phase  of  knowledge,  even  the  most  primitive.  Without  logical 
principles  which  go  beyond  the  content  of  given  impressions  there  is  as 
little  a  consciousness  of  the  ego  as  there  is  a  consciousness  of  the  object. 
.  .  .  No  content  can  be  known  and  experienced  as  "subjective"  without 
being  contrasted  with  another  content  which  appears  as  objective.15 

The  essential  thought  here  is  that  the  subjective  and  the  ob- 
jective are  correlative  and  that  consciousness  is  not  immediately 
given  to  itself  as  such.  This  doctrine  is  no  doubt  derived  from 
the  position  taken  by  Kant  in  his  "Refutation  of  Idealism"  in 
the  Critique  of  Pure  Reason,  namely,  that  knowledge  of  the 
subject  is  secondary  and  is  dependent  upon  knowledge  of  the 
object  "with  regard  to  its  determinations  in  time."  But  why 
cannot  the  realist  welcome  considerations  of  this  sort?  There  is 
a  directness  of  reference  in  the  mind's  knowledge  of  external 
things  as  well  as  in  its  knowledge  of  itself  j  no  doubt  the  two 
forms  of  knowledge  develop  $ari  passu  and  cannot  exist  apart 
from  each  other.  Still,  if  there  is  knowledge  of  things,  those 
things  must  exist  apart  from  knowledge  and  prior  to  it.  In  a 

15  W,  295. 


144  WILLIAM  CURTIS  SWABEY 

word,  being  must  antedate  being  known;  we  cannot  suppose 
that  things  known  exist  only  in  our  knowledge  of  them;  for, 
"creative  knowledge"  is  not  knowledge  at  all  in  the  human 
sense  of  the  word.  The  thought  that  being  depends  on  being 
known  brings  us  to  most  surprising  results.  For  then  the  knower 
would  also  derive  his  being  from  being  known  either  to  himself 
or  to  another.  It  is  impossible,  however,  for  a  thing  to  depend 
on  itself,  and  not  plausible  to  suppose  that  one  knower  derives 
his  being  from  being  known  by  another  and  so  on  ad  infinitum. 
Surely  in  the  end  we  must  reach  a  type  of  being  which  is  self- 
existent. 

We  have  just  seen  that  Cassirer  holds  that  there  is  no  con- 
sciousness of  the  ego  nor  of  material  things  without  "logical 
principles"  which  "go  beyond  the  content  of  given  impressions." 
However,  this  position  seems  open  to  question.  A  man  may 
think  of  whatever  he  likes,  gods,  devils,  angels,  or  atoms.  There 
is,  in  such  thinking,  a  certain  directness;  we  contemplate  our 
object,  whatever  it  may  be,  without,  however,  necessarily  af- 
firming its  existence.  A  man  may,  therefore,  consider  his  own 
mind,  which  he  does  whenever  he  speaks  of  it.  Where  are  the 
"logical  principles"  said  to  be  involved?  No  doubt  it  is  true  that 
the  self,  however  it  may  be  defined,  is  not  among  given  im- 
pressions or  sense-data.  Still,  I  can  mean  myself  just  as  I  can 
mean  the  table.  All  objects  of  thought  are  given  as  objects; 
although  we  are  not  thereby  entitled  to  regard  them  as  real. 
The  real  existence  of  the  self  is  postulated  to  explain  certain 
facts  just  as  that  of  the  table  is  postulated  to  explain  certain 
others;  no  doubt  this  "explanation"  does  presuppose  certain 
logical  principles.  Nevertheless,  has  Cassirer  shown  that  the 
assertions  of  the  "metaphysical  realist,"  namely,  that  there  are 
minds  and  that  these  minds  know  things  external  to  themselves, 
are  false? 

"If  we  determine  the  object,  not  as  an  absolute  substance 
beyond  all  knowledge,  but  as  the  object  shaped  in  progressing 
experience,  we  find  that  there  is  no  epistemological  gap  to  be 
laboriously  spanned  by  some  authoritative  decree  of  thought, 
by  a  'trans-subjective  command'."16  Naturally  the  object  is  not 


CASSIRER  AND  METAPHYSICS  145 

"beyond  all  knowledge,"  since  by  definition  it  is  the  object  of 
knowledge.  How  can  an  object  be  "shaped  in  progressing  ex- 
perience?" Do  scientists  re-make  the  world?  Does  Cassirer 
mean  to  deny  that  the  thing  known  is  distinct  from  the  knowing 
mind  and  existentially  independent  of  that  mind?  Cassirer  him- 
self goes  on  to  say: 

This  object  may  be  called  transcendent  from  the  standpoint  of  a  psycho- 
logical individual;  from  the  standpoint  of  logic  and  its  supreme  principles, 
nevertheless,  it  is  to  be  characterized  as  purely  "immanent."  It  remains 
strictly  within  the  sphere  which  those  principles  determine  and  limit, 
especially  the  universal  principles  of  mathematical  and  scientific  knowl- 
edge. This  simple  thought  alone  constitutes  the  kernel  of  "critical 
idealism."17 

Here  then  we  have  a  statement  offered  as  the  essence  of  critical 
idealism  and  well  worthy  of  our  attention.  Cassirer  grants  that 
the  object  is  transcendent  from  the  standpoint  of  the  psycho- 
logical individual.  Does  he  mean  that  the  object  is  not  trans- 
cendent with  reference  to  the  "mind"  taken  in  some  other 
sense?  Apparently  he  does,  for  he  goes  on  to  say  that  the  object 
is  immanent  "from  the  standpoint  of  logic  and  its  supreme 
principles."  However,  we  may  well  ask  whether  there  is  any- 
thing to  which  logic  does  not  apply.  In  asserting  that  the  object 
is  immanent  in  this  sense,  have  we  not  a  meaningless  statement, 
since  there  is  no  transcendent  realm  with  regard  to  which  the 
immanent  is  a  limited  sphere?  In  a  word,  in  so  far  as  Cassirer's 
idealism  merely  asserts  (if  we  may  cite  such  laws  as  non- 
contradiction and  excluded  middle  as  "supreme  principles  of 
logic")  that  "what  is"  is  self-consistent  and  determinate,  we 
can  hardly  deny  that  the  doctrine  is  not  in  conflict  with  dualistic 
realism.  Such  idealism  would  be  merely  a  re-affirmation  of  logic 
and  mathematics  and  not  a  recognizable  epistemological  asser- 
tion. If  Cassirer's  idealism  contradicts  realism  at  any  point  it 
must  be  because  he  regards  the  principles  of  logic  and  mathe- 
matics as  inherent  in  the  mind,  just  as  Kant  did.  Cassirer  goes 
on  to  assert  "the  objective  validity  of  certain  axioms  and  norms 
of  scientific  knowledge."  "Die  Wahrheit  des  Gegenstands — dies 

17  Cf.  SF,  297. 


146  WILLIAM  CURTIS  SWABEY 

allein  ist  die  Meintmg — hangt  an  der  Wahrheit  dieser  Axiome 
tmd  besifat  keinen  anderen  und  fester  en  Grund."16  But  how  can 
an  object  be  true?  An  object  is  real  or  unreal;  only  a  proposition 
is  capable  of  truth.  The  fact  that  certain  logical  laws  are  uni- 
versally presupposed  in  other  propositions  does  not  imply  that 
being  is  dependent  upon  being  known  and  is  therefore  not 
incompatible  with  dualistic  realism.  The  assertion  of  the  in- 
volvement of  logical  principles  in  more  particular  judgments 
implies  a  conflict  with  realism  only  if  logical  truths  are  supposed 
to  represent  the  necessary  thoughts  of  a  universal  consciousness; 
all  things  may  then  be  said  to  be  within  this  universal  mind.  But 
this  universal  mind  seems  to  be  merely  a  postulated  correlative 
of  universal  truths.  Cassirer  says  nothing  about  a  universal 
mind,  and  thus  seems  to  leave  the  conception  of  idealism  indefi- 
nite. He  does,  however,  conceive  of  the  mind  as  perpetually  en- 
gaged in  a  constructive  activity.  We  are  left  with  a  protean 
"thought"  which  postulates,  on  the  one  hand,  bodies,  and  on  the 
other,  selves.  The  thesis  which  we  seek  to  defend  in  this  criticism 
is  that  such  "construction"  is  merely  metaphorical.  The  mind 
may  range  through  the  realm  of  being,  the  world  of  thinkables, 
in  an  exploratory  fashion,  merely  considering  hypotheses;  but, 
in  all  this  it  creates  nothing;  it  merely  discovers  pre-existent 
possibilities.  When  it  posits  some  one  of  these  thinkable  objects 
as  really  existent  it  likewise  produces  nothing;  it  merely  makes 
an  assertion  which  may  be  either  true  or  false.  But  such  idealism 
as  that  of  Kant  and  Cassirer  would  lose  much  of  its  attractive- 
ness were  it  deprived  of  the  picturesque  and  poetic  notion  of 
mind,  the  supreme  magician,  endlessly  producing  and  destroy- 
ing worlds. 

The  concept  of  thing,  according  to  Cassirer,  is  merely  a  su- 
preme ordering  concept  of  experience.  At  first  we  believe  that 
we  know  things  directly;  but  reflection  destroys  this  naive  con- 
fidence. The  impression  of  the  object  comes  to  be  separated 
from  the  object  itself,  which  becomes  an  unknowable  and 
elusive  thing-5n-itself .  But  from  the  standpoint  of  critical  ideal- 
ism, Cassirer  says,  the  concept  of  an  object  or  thing  is  merely 

18 Substanzbegriff  und  Funktionsbegriff  (original  German  edition,  1910),  395. 


CASSIRER  AND  METAPHYSICS  147 

an  instrument  of  knowledge;  this  amounts  to  saying  that  objects 
are  merely  fictions,  useful  in  stating  propositions  regarded  as 
true.  Helmholtz  took  the  position  that  "Each  property  or 
quality  of  a  thing  is  in  reality  nothing  but  its  capacity  to  produce 
certain  effects  on  other  things."  On  this  Cassirer  makes  the 
following  comment: 

We  do  not  grasp  the  relations  of  absolute  things  from  their  interaction, 
but  we  concentrate  our  knowledge  of  empirical  connections  into  judg- 
ments, to  which  we  ascribe  objective  validity.  Therefore  the  relative 
properties  do  not  signify  in  a  negative  sense  that  residuum  of  things  that 
we  are  able  to  grasp,  but  they  are  the  first  and  positive  ground  of  the 
concept  of  reality.19 

We  see  then  that,  for  Cassirer,  the  great  objects  of  knowledge 
are  relations.  Thing-concepts  are  merely  means  for  stating  rela- 
tions. Now,  undoubtedly  this  view  is  an  attractive  one;  yet  it 
contains  certain  difficulties.  How  can  there  be  relations  without 
relata?  The  weight  of  a  body  can  perhaps  be  defined  in  terms 
of  its  power  of  influencing  other  bodies,  and  the  sense-qualities 
are  explained  as  mere  powers,  possessed  by  bodies,  of  producing 
sensations.  Nevertheless,  size,  shape,  and  relative  position 
cannot  be  taken  from  bodies  without  annihilating  them.  Rela- 
tivism of  this  extreme  sort  constitutes  a  species  of  nihilism  which 
forces  us  to  admit  that  we  can  form  no  conception  of  the  real 
whatsoever.  Or,  if  we  are  left  with  truths,  what  are  these  truths 
about?  If  realism  is  to  be  defended,  it  must  be  because  not  all 
the  properties  of  bodies  are  relative.  Thus  the  numerical  expres- 
sion of  size  varies  with  the  unit  of  measurement,  but  size  is  what 
is  measured;  it  is  not  the  result  of  measurement.  So,  too, 
although  a  body  appears  differently  when  viewed  from  differ- 
ent angles,  we  need  not  deny  that  bodies  possess  determinate 
shapes.  The  difficulty  which  I  feel  here  is  concerned  with  the 
question  whether  such  a  complete  relativism  can  really  be  in- 
telligibly stated.  At  any  rate,  Cassirer  and  other  idealists  must 
continue  to  use  language  which  implies  the  existence  of  the 
world  of  material  things.  Who  are  the  knowers  who  "use  the 
thing-concept  to  organize  their  experiences?"  Are  they  men? 

19  SF,  306. 


148  WILLIAM  CURTIS  SWABEY 

And  what  is  experience?  From  the  standpoint  of  dualism,  ex- 
perience involves  the  interaction  of  minds  and  things;  it  is  pri- 
marily a  matter  of  minds  being  affected  by  things.  Experience  is 
itself  not  a  thing  made  up  of  parts,  and  it  is  not  the  primary 
object  of  knowledge;  "we"  do  not  "deal  with"  experience,  but 
rather  we  have  experience  of  things  and  thus  learn  their  ways. 
The  making  of  an  object  out  of  experience  is,  of  course,  the 
irremovable  mark  of  Kantian  idealism. 

The  realist  believes  that  physical  things  are  more  than  mere 
ordering  concepts.  It  is  true  that  physical  things,  whether  those 
dealt  with  by  common  sense  or  those  postulated  by  physical 
science,  are  not  "given  to  sense,"  if  we  are  to  understand  thereby 
a  wholly  passive  process.  We  must  distinguish  between  sensing 
and  perceiving;  the  latter  involves  the  use  of  "thing-concepts." 
In  postulating  public  and  continuously  existent  things  we  neces- 
sarily go  beyond  the  sensations  of  the  moment.  The  very  con- 
cept of  really  existent  things,  in  contrast  to  things  which  are 
merely  thinkable,  implies  at  least  some  degree  of  lawfulness  of 
behavior,  in  other  words,  some  sort  of  interaction  and  causality. 
Cassirer  seems  to  say  the  same  thing  but  with  a  different  em- 
phasis; he  seems  to  think  that  what  we  must  postulate  is  a 
creation  of  our  own  minds,  enjoying  no  absolute  being.  We 
may,  however,  appeal  to  the  parallel  case  of  the  religious  man 
who  feels  that  he  must  postulate  a  God;  he  nevertheless  postu- 
lates this  God  as  an  eternal  and  indestructible  being.  Must  we 
not  postulate  nature  as  (very  likely)  an  everlasting  system  of 
things  in  perpetual  interaction:  some  of  their  interactions  con- 
stitute the  occasions  for  the  occurrence  of  minds  who  know  them 
and  interact  with  them  in  various  ways?  But  for  Cassirer  there  is 
no  self-existent  nature  of  which  we  have  real  but  imperfect 
knowledge;  hypothesis  replaces  hypothesis,  and  "reality"  is 
defined  by  the  law  of  sequence,  by  which  world-system  over- 
comes world-system;  for  him,  there  is  progress  towards  com- 
prehensiveness and  consistency,  but  no  progressive  revelation 
of  a  reality  which  is  there,  whether  known  or  not. 

WILLIAM  CURTIS  SWABEY 

DEPARTMENT  OF  PHILOSOPHY 

NEW  YORK  UNIVERSITY 


3 

I.  K.  Stephens 
CASSIRER'S  DOCTRINE  OF  THE  A  PRIORI 


3 
CASSIRER'S  DOCTRINE  OF  THE  A  PRIORI 


WHEN  Locke  cleared  the  philosophical  stage  of  its 
"props"  in  the  form  of  innate  ideas,  he  offered,  as  a  sub- 
stitute for  this  particular  traditional  basis  of  certainty,  our  im- 
mediate perception  of  the  agreement  or  disagreement  of  our 
ideas.  Whatever  ground  this  theory  might  have  supplied  as  a 
basis  for  empirical  certainty,  however,  was  shattered  by  Hume 
when  he  called  attention  to  the  fact  that  "relations  of  ideas"  dif- 
fer in  principle  from  "relations  of  matters  of  fact."  He  admitted 
that  there  are  necessary  relations  between  our  ideas,  but  denied 
that  there  are  any  such  relations  between  "matters  of  fact."  Since, 
for  Hume,  knowledge  must  be  based  upon  ideas,  and  certainty 
must  be  based  upon  necessary  connections,  the  only  field  in 
which  the  mind  can  possibly  attain  certainty  is  in  the  field  of  the 
"relations  of  ideas."  Since  relations  of  matters  of  fact  lack  this 
character  of  necessity,  our  knowledge  pertaining  to  this  field  of 
experience  is  deprived  of  all  logical  grounds  for  a  claim  to 
certainty. 

The  problem  which  Hume  raises  here  is  simply  that  concern- 
ing the  objective  validity  of  the  conceptual  order  of  'the  mind.  If 
one  desires  to  defend  a  claim  to  certainty  in  knowledge  pertain- 
ing to  "matters  of  fact,"  it  is  incumbent  upon  him  to  show  how 
the  mind  can  impose  its  concepts  upon  "matters  of  fact,"  upon 
the  "given  in  experience,"  in  such  a  manner  as  to  guarantee 
that  conceptual  necessity  will  govern  the  given.  He  must  show 
how  the  relation  between  the  ideas  of  the  mind  and  matters 
of  fact  can  be  so  interpreted  as  to  furnish  a  solid  ground  on  the 
basis  of  which  the  necessity  which  admittedly  holds  for  rela- 
tions of  ideas  can  be  guaranteed  to  hold  in  the  mind's  conceptual 


152  I.  K.  STEPHENS 

dealings  with  matters  of  fact.  This  is  essentially  the  problem  of 
the  a  priori;  and  every  significant  doctrine  of  the  a  priori  which 
has  been  formulated  in  philosophy  since  Hume  raised  the  prob- 
lem has  been  designed  as  a  basis  for  its  solution. 

Now  this  bit  of  skeptical  infection,  which  Hume  injected 
into  the  thought  stream  of  modern  science  and  philosophy,  first 
took  effective  hold  in  the  mind  of  Kant.  After  a  long  period  of 
intellectual  insomnia  and  after  many  mental  contortions  and 
gyrations,  Kant  finally  came  out  of  the  attack  with  a  new 
Copernican  Revolution  in  philosophy  and  with  a  brand-new 
conception  of  the  a  priori,  which  he  regarded  as  a  sound  basis  for 
the  defense  of  the  citadel  of  empirical  certainty  against  Hume's 
skepticism.  Subsequent  developments  in  the  fields  of  science, 
mathematics,  and  logic  have,  however,  shaken  the  Kantian 
foundation  and  torn  gaping  holes  in  his  defenses.  As  these 
defenses  have  disintegrated,  under  the  bombardment  of  the 
guns  of  recent  developments  in  science,  mathematics,  and  logic, 
however,  a  long  line  of  "successors  to  Kant"  have  appeared  on 
the  scene  to  render  valiant  service  in  attempts  to  secure  the 
foundations  and  to  repair  the  breaches,  through  some  sort  of 
modification,  or  reformulation,  or  regrounding  of  the  Kantian 
a  priori.  It  should  be  pointed  out,  however,  that  in  spite  of  all 
these  gallant  efforts,  Hume's  denial  of  certainty  in  the  realm  of 
empirical  knowledge  still  stands. 

II 

In  that  long  line  of  "critical  philosophers"  who  claim  a  philo- 
sophical lineage  from  Kant,  possibly  no  one  is  more  worthy 
of  the  distinction  than  is  Cassirer.  His  penetrating  and  thorough 
analysis  of  Kant's  system  of  philosophy,  his  precise  understand- 
ing of  just  what  Kant  was  attempting  to  do,  and  his  profound 
and  extensive  knowledge  of  the  recent  developments  in  science, 
mathematics  and  logic,  revealed  to  him  many  of  the  funda- 
mental weaknesses  in  Kant's  position;  but,  despite  these  facts, 
he  still  seems  to  me  to  find  more  of  permanent  value  in  Kant's 
system  of  philosophy  than  do  most  of  those  who  claim  to  "stem 
from  Kant."  His  doctrine  of  the  a  priori,  however,  is  not  simply 


DOCTRINE  OF  THE  A  PRIORI  153 

Kant's  doctrine  reformulated  with  its  elaborate  architectonic 
omitted;  nor  is  it  Kant's  doctrine  revised  and  brought  up-to- 
date  in  the  light  of  recent  developments  in  science,  mathematics, 
and  logic.  Kant's  doctrine  of  the  a  priori  and  the  ingenuity  with 
which  Kant  applied  it  in  his  attempt  to  solve  Hume's  problem 
seem  to  be  to  Cassirer — as  they  have  been  to  many  other 
Kantians — a  source  of  inspiration  and  a  useful  guide  in  the 
formulation  of  his  own  doctrine  of  the  a  priori.  As  he  himself 
puts  it,  he  sees  in  Kant  "not  an  end,  but  an  ever  new  and  fruit- 
ful beginning  for  the  criticism  of  knowledge."1 

With  Kant,  and  with  most  Kantians,  Cassirer  is  in  funda- 
mental agreement  on  at  least  two  points  with  respect  to  the 
a  priori;  (i)  that  the  a  priori  is  of  the  mind,  and  (ii)  that  all 
certainty  is  based  on  logical  necessity  and  that  logical  necessity 
is  grounded  in  the  a  priori.  Also  like  Kant  and  most  Kantians, 
Cassirer  conceives  the  major  task  of  philosophy  to  be  the  critical 
analysis  of  knowledge  and  the  explication  of  the  a  priori;  to  the 
accomplishment  of  this  task  he  devotes  his  entire  ponderous  sys- 
tem of  philosophy.  Nowhere  in  his  voluminous  writings,  so 
far  as  I  have  been  able  to  determine,  has  Cassirer  set  forth,  in 
any  sort  of  definite  and  summary  statement,  his  doctrine  of  the 
a  priori.  It  pervades  every  phase  of  his  philosophy  and  appears 
on  almost  every  page  of  his  philosophical  writings;  but  it  is  a 
difficult  and  hazardous  task  to  analyze  it  out  of  his  system  and 
to  pin  it  down  in  a  definite  statement  which  will  do  justice  to 
its  total  meaning  and  value.  This  difficulty  is  further  increased 
by  two  other  factors,  (i)  His  doctrine  of  the  a  priori  seems  to 
have  gone  through  at  least  two  phases  of  development,  and  the 
detailed  results  of  these  two  different  phases  of  its  formulation 
are  significantly  different,  (ii)  In  each  of  these  two  formula- 
tions his  doctrine  of  the  a  priori  is  so  inextricably  bound  up  with 
some  other  special  aspect  of  his  philosophical  theory  that  it  is 
extremely  difficult  to  isolate  it  and  evaluate  it,  without  going 
thoroughly  into  these  intimately  associated  theories. 

The  first  phase  of  its  development,  set  forth  in  his  Sub- 
stanzbegriff  und  Funktionsbegriff  (1910),  is  formulated  on  the 

1  Das  Erkenntnisfroblem,  Vol.  I  (1922),  14. 


154  I-  K.  STEPHENS 

basis  of  a  very  thorough  critical  analysis  of  the  physical  sciences 
and  of  mathematics,  and  is  thoroughly  dominated  by  what 
seems  to  me  to  be  a  tremendously  exaggerated  regard  for  the 
position  and  the  value  of  mathematics  and  the  mathematical 
concept  in  the  theory  of  knowledge.  Throughout  this  whole 
work,  as  Gerard  Heymans  remarks,  "Cassirer  looks  steadfastly 
towards  mathematics  and  insists  that  what  is  valid  for  this  is 
valid  also  for  all  the  other  sciences."2  Here  his  doctrine  of  the 
a  priori  is  intricately  bound  up  with  his  "mathematical  theory  of 
the  concept"  and  reflects  a  powerful  influence  from  the  mathe- 
matical interest.  Since  another  essay  in  this  volume  deals  with 
Cassirer's  "theory  of  the  mathematical  concept,"*  I  shall  omit 
its  discussion  here  and  shall  confine  my  discussion  to  those  more 
basic  aspects  of  this  earlier  formulation  which  seem  to  carry  over 
into  the  later  formulation. 

This  second  formulation,  which  is  contained  primarily  in 
Cassirer's  Philosophie  der  symbolischen  Formeny  is  based  on  a 
critical  analysis  of  the  whole  of  culture  and  is,  in  a  definite 
sense,  a  modification  and  extension  of  the  earlier  formulation 
to  constitute  a  basis  for  a  "general  theory  of  meaning."  Here 
Cassirer  has  relinquished,  to  some  extent,  his  former  emphasis 
upon  the  place  and  value  of  mathematics  and  the  mathematical 
concept.  And,  though  he  still  insists  that  "for  such  a  theory  of 
meaning,  mathematics  and  mathematical  natural  science  will 
always  constitute  a  weighty  and  indispensable  paradigm,"  he 
admits  that  "it  in  no  wise  exhausts  its  content."3  In  this  second 
formulation,  however,  his  doctrine  of  the  a  priori  has  found  a 
new  "love"  in  the  form  of  his  elaborate  doctrine  of  "signs." 
Since  any  attempt  to  extricate  it  from  its  many  "entangling 
alliances"  with  this  theory  would  lead  far  beyond  the  intended 
scope  of  this  paper,  I  shall  feel  justified  here  in  avoiding  also 
any  discussion  of  this  aspect  of  his  doctrine,  except  in  so  far  as 
it  seems  necessary  in  order  to  do  justice  to  his  doctrine  of  the 
a  priori. 

Cassirer  agrees  with  Kant  that  the  correct  approach  to  the 

8  "Zur  Cassirerschen  Reform  der  Begriffslehre,"  Kant-Studien,  Vol.  33  (1928), 
109-128. 

*  EDITOR'S  NOTE  :  Cf.  Professor  Harold  R.  Smart's  essay  infra  on  this  subject. 
3  "Zur  Theorie  des  Begriffs,"  Kant-Studien.  Vol.  33  (1928),  130. 


DOCTRINE  OF  THE  A  PRIORI  155 

discovery  of  the  a  priori  is  through  the  method  of  a  critical 
analysis  of  knowledge.  He  emphasizes,  over  and  over,  the 
futility  of  the  attempts  on  the  part  of  previous  "metaphysical 
philosophers"  to  deduce  the  "fundamental  forms  of  the  mind" 
from  some  "original  fundamental  principle."  The  original  diffi- 
culty in  such  an  attempt  always  consists  in  the  fact  that  such 
philosophers  can  determine  neither  the  correct  "beginning 
point"  nor  the  correct  "end  point."  If  they  were  granted  these 
two  points,  "they  might  succeed  in  connecting  them  through 
the  constant  application  of  one  and  the  same  methodological 
principle  in  a  synthetic-deductive  process."  But  since  they  have 
neither  "point,"  they  are  much  in  the  same  position  as  Kant's 
speculative  "dove,"  which  succeeded  in  generating  a  tre- 
mendous amount  of  action,  but  was  unable  to  produce  any  for- 
ward motion.  As  Cassirer  correctly  asserts,  such  philosophers 
have  always  started  out  from  "some  definite  metaphysically 
hypostatized  logical,  or  aesthetic,  or  religious  principle,"  and 
the  results  obtained  from  the  process  have  never  been  worth 
the  efforts  spent. 

Granted,  however,  that  the  critical  analysis  of  knowledge  is 
the  only  method  that  will  lead  to  the  discovery  of  the  genu- 
inely a  priori  elements  of  knowledge,  the  question  naturally 
arises,  How  is  one  to  recognize  it,  when  he  comes  upon  it  in 
the  analysis?  Unless  one  has  some  distinguishing  criterion  in 
terms  of  which  to  recognize  the  a  priori  when  he  finds  it,  he 
would  still  be  in  the  same  position  as  the  "metaphysical  philoso- 
pher" who  had  no  "end  point."  Cassirer's  answer  to  this  ques- 
tion, in  the  first  formulation  of  his  doctrine  of  the  a  priori, 
would  seem  to  run  as  follows:  Since  the  a  priori  is  an  "element 
of  form,"  which  is  necessarily  involved  in  every  creative  act  of 
mind,  and  since  all  knowledge  is  the  product  of  such  creative 
activity,  a  critical  analysis  of  knowledge  will  reveal  the  a  priori 
as  that  "element  of  form"  which  is  always  present  in  every 
creative  act  of  mind  and  which  remains  invariant  through  all  the 
changing  and  shifting  contents  of  experience.  It  is  to  the  end  of 
discovering  just  such  a  set  of  "invariant  elements  of  form"  that 
he  devotes  that  searching  and  exhaustive  critical  analysis  of 
science  and  mathematics  set  forth  in  his  Substanzbegriff  und 
Funktionsbegriff. 


156  I.  K.  STEPHENS 

One  of  the  most  obvious  aspects  of  science,  says  Cassirer,  is 
that  it  is  a  going  concern,  "a  historically  self-developing  fact." 
Kant's  failure  to  recognize  this  fact  becomes,  according  to 
Cassirer,  one  of  the  chief  sources  of  weakness  in  Kant's  system. 
Kant  developed  and  formulated  his  doctrine  of  the  a  priori 
under  an  undue  predilection  for  Newtonian  Mechanics,  which 
he  seemed  to  regard  as  an  example  far  exellence  of  pure 
Reason,  and  as  definitely  finished.  Scientific  knowledge,  how- 
ever, is  never  static;  it  is  in  constant  process  of  development; 
and  the  one  definite  end  toward  which  it  seems  ever  to  be 
directed  is  the  discovery  of  certain  permanent  elements  in  the 
flux  of  experience,  "that  can  be  used  as  constants  of  theoretical 
construction."  Of  such  nature  are  the  concepts  of  science:  hy- 
potheses, laws  of  nature,  scientific  principles,  and  the  like.  In 
the  history  of  this  process,  however,  we  are  met  with  a  constant 
changing  and  shifting  of  just  such  seemingly  constant  elements. 
What  seems  to  be  secure  on  one  level  of  development  is  found 
inadequate  on  the  next  level.  One  particular  system  of  concepts 
follows  another  in  constant  succession;  hypotheses  formulated 
on  one  level  yield  their  place  to  other  hypotheses  on  the  higher 
level;  scientific  principles,  which  seem  to  be  secure  and  firmly 
established  on  one  level  of  development,  are  supplanted  by 
other  principles  on  the  next  level  of  development;  and  even 
"the  categories  under  which  we  consider  the  historical  process 
must  themselves  be  regarded  as  mutable  and  susceptible  to 
change."  But  no  system  of  concepts,  no  single  hypothesis  or 
system  of  hypotheses,  no  scientific  principle,  and  no  category 
which  gives  way  to  a  successor  is  ever  entirely  annihilated.  In 
each  case  of  substitution  the  earlier  form  is  taken  up  into  the 
new  form  which  must  contain  the  answers  to  all  the  questions 
raised  under  the  previous  form.  This  one  feature,  Cassirer 
claims,  guarantees  the  logical  continuity  from  stage  to  stage; 
establishes  a  logical  connection  between  the  earlier  and  the 
latter;  and  "points  to  a  common  forum  of  judgment  to  which 
both  are  subjected."4 

This  "common  forum  of  judgment,"  at  the  bar  of  which 

4  Substance  and.  Function^  268. 


DOCTRINE  OF  THE  A  PRIORI  157 

every  concept,  hypothesis,  principle,  and  category  must  justify 
its  relative  claim  to  truth,  consists  in  a  set  of  logically  prior 
"supreme  principles  of  experience  in  general,"  which  must 
always  be  present  and  effective  as  an  "ultimate  constant  standard 
of  measurement"  in  terms  of  which  these  relative  claims  may  be 
measured  and  established. 

Since  we  never  compare  the  system  of  hypotheses  in  itself  with  the  naked 
facts  in  themselves,  but  always  can  only  oppose  one  hypothetical  system  of 
principles  to  another  more  inclusive,  more  radical  system,  we  need  for 
this  progressive  comparison  an  ultimate  constant  standard  of  measure- 
ment of  supreme  principles  of  experience  in  general.  Thought  demands 
the  identity  of  this  logical  standard  of  measurement  amid  all  the  changes 
of  what  is  measured.5 

Now,  according  to  Cassirer,  the  critical  analysis  of  knowledge 
ends  in  just  such  a  set  of  ultimate  logical  principles,  a  set  of 
"fundamental  relations,  upon  which  the  content  of  all  experi- 
ence rests,"  and  beyond  which  thought  can  not  go,  for  "only  in 
them  is  thought  itself  and  an  object  of  thought  possible."6 

They  are  the  "universally  valid  formal  functions  (Fiwctions- 
form)  of  rational  and  empirical  knowledge"  and  constitute 

a  fixed  system  of  conditions,  and  only  relative  to  this  system  do  all  as- 
sertions concerning  the  object  as  well  as  those  concerning  the  ego,  con- 
cerning object  and  subject,  gain  an  intelligible  meaning.  There  is  no 
objectivity  outside  the  frame  of  number  and  magnitude,  permanence 
and  change,  causality  and  reciprocal  action ;  all  these  determinations  are 
only  the  ultimate  invariants  of  experience  itself  and  therefore  of  all 
reality  which  can  be  established  in  it  and  by  it.7 

These  forms,  then,  constitute  the  genuine  a  priori  elements 
of  knowledge,  for  they  are  "those  ultimate  logical  invariants 
which  lie  at  the  foundation  of  every  determination  of  a  con- 
nection in  general  according  to  natural  law"  and  "only  such 
ultimate  logical  invariants  can  be  called  a  priori."*  To  this  list 
of  ultimate  invariants,  Cassirer  adds  "the  categories  of  space 
and  time,  magnitude,  and  the  functional  dependency  of  magni- 

8  ibid. 

8  Substanzbegriff  und  Funktionsbegriff.  (1910),  410. 
4ii. 
357. 


158  I.  K.  STEPHENS 

tudes,  etc.,"  since  they,  too,  are  "established  as  such  elements 
of  form,  which  cannot  be  lacking  in  any  empirical  judgment  or 
system  of  judgments."9  This  group  of  "logical  invariants"  con- 
stitutes that  system  of  "unchanging  elements  demanded  by  all 
scientific  thought"  and  "fulfill  a  requirement  clearly  urged  by 
inductive  procedure  itself."10  They  also  seem  to  constitute  the 
basic  structural  form  of  the  mind,  and  the  basic  principles  of 
that  "transcendental  logic"  upon  which  alone  a  truly  universal 
logic  can  be  developed.  For  Cassirer  insists  that  "a  truly  uni- 
versal logic  can  be  constructed  only  upon  a  'transcendental* 
logic,  i.e.,  a  logic  of  thought-objects."  Such  a  logic,  he  insists,  is 
in  diametrical  opposition  to  the  formal  logic,  which,  as  Kant 
defined  it,  has  as  its  chief  excellence  the  fact  that  it  "abstracts 
from  all  experience  of  objects  and  their  differences."11  In  this 
traditional  formal  logic,  the  concept  is  a  mere  "form  emptied 
of  all  its  objective  content  and  meaning}"  whereas,  in  his  "truly 
universal  logic,"  concepts  are  "concrete  universals"  which  not 
only  "embrace"  but  "comprehend"  the  particular  subordinated 
to  them. 

Now  when  Cassirer  defines  the  a  priori  as  "those  ultimate 
logical  invariants  which  lie  at  the  foundation  of  every  determi- 
nation of  a  connection  in  general  according  to  natural  law,"  he 
designates  this  as  "a  strictly  limited  meaning  of  the  a  friori" 
It  seems  that  a  more  comprehensive  meaning  of  the  term  would 
include  all  those  concepts,  categories,  and  interpretive  principles 
which  are  implicitly  contained  in  this  set  of  "ultimate  forms," 
all  arranged  in  a  logical  structure  of  superordination  and  sub- 
ordination. The  task  of  science  is  to  discover  these  concepts, 
categories,  etc.;  and  the  procedure  by  which  it  accomplishes 
this  task  is  the  constant  comparison  of  these  various  concepts, 
hypotheses,  etc.,  with  this  "constant  standard  of  measurement 
of  supreme  principles  of  experience  in  general."  And  the 
method  followed  here,  says  Cassirer,  "shows  the  same  'rational7 
structure  as  was  found  in  mathematics."12  Induction  and  deduc- 

1  Substance  and  F unction >  269. 

"Ibid.,  268. 

M"Zur  Theorie  des  Begriffs,"  Kant-Studien.  Vol.  33  (1928),  131. 

"Substance  and  Functiony  269. 


DOCTRINE  OF  THE  A  PRIORI  159 

tion  do  not  differ  in  their  goal,  but  only  in  the  means  of  reaching 
their  goal. 

"The  tendency  to   something  unchanging,   to   something 
permanent  in  the  coming  and  going  of  sensuous  phenomena,  is 
thus  characteristic  of  inductive  thought  no  less  than  of  mathe- 
matical thought."13  Genuine  theoretically  guided  induction  is 
never  satisfied,  says  Cassirer,  short  of  the  establishment  of  a 
connection  in  the  given  "which  can  be  ...  clearly  surveyed  ac- 
cording to  the  principle  of  its  construction."14  All  thought  is  a 
process  of  objectifying.  Its  function  and  purpose,  both  in  induc- 
tion and  in  deduction,  is  to  establish  unity  in  the  flux  of  sensory 
experience.  This  can  be  done  only  on  the  basis  of  those  trans- 
cendental forms  which  constitute  the  structural  unity  of  the 
mind.  In  so  far,  then,  as  induction,  through  its  method  of  con- 
tinually testing  its  conceptual  devices  by  constant  reference  to 
that  body  of  "ultimate  invariants"  is  able  to  develop  concepts, 
hypotheses,  etc.,  which  stem  logically  from  this  system  of  in- 
variant principles,  and  to  apply  them  in  its  conceptual  dealings 
with  "matters  of  fact,"  it  can  gain  knowledge  of  empirical 
objects  which  possesses  the  same  degree  of  necessity  and  cer- 
tainty as  does  knowledge  of  the  objects  of  mathematics.  For 
"we  do  not  know  'objects'  as  if  they  were  already  independently 
determined  and  given  as  objects, — but  we  know  objectively,  by 
producing  certain  limitations  and  by  fixating  certain  permanent 
elements  and  connections  within  the  uniform  flow  of  experi- 
ence."15 The  superiority  of  the  mathematical  concept  over  the 
ordinary  generic  concept,  its  "greater  value  for  knowledge,"  its 
"superior  objective  meaning  and  validity,"  seems  to  be  due  to 
its  closer  logical  affinity  for  this  set  of  "supreme  principles." 

In  the  first  formulation  of  his  doctrine  of  the  a  priori, 
Cassirer's  attempt  to  solve  Hume's  problem  seems  to  have 
turned  out  to  be  much  the  same  as  the  attempt  made  by  Kant, 
namely,  to  show  how,  at  least  in  the  realm  of  mathematics  and 
the  exact  sciences,  synthetic  propositions  a  priori  are  possible. 
He  seems  to  have  become  conscious  later,  however,  that  he  had 

18  Ibid.,  249. 

14  ibid.,  253. 
303. 


160  I.  K.  STEPHENS 

committed  the  same  fallacy  of  which  he  accused  Kant,  i.e.,  he 
had  confined  his  critical  analysis  within  too  narrow  limits.  For, 
if  the  a  priori  is  the  "necessary  condition  for  all  meaningful 
experience/'  and  its  function  is  to  guarantee  the  unity  of  all 
knowledge,  then  it  must  be  present  and  effective  wherever 
there  is  meaningful  experience  and  a  claim  to  knowledge.  The 
world  of  mathematics  and  the  exact  sciences  is  not  the  beginning, 
but  the  end  of  this  "objectifying  process,"  and  its  roots  reach 
down  into  earlier  levels  of  "fashioning."  Thus  these  a  priori 
forms,  which  come  to  clearest  expression  on  the  level  of  scien- 
tific knowledge,  must  apply  no  less,  mutatis  mutandis,  to  all  the 
fundamental  functions  of  mind  on  all  the  lower  levels  of  cul- 
ture and  in  all  its  special  "phases."  Thus,  for  Cassirer,  in  the 
second  attempt  to  formulate  his  doctrine  of  the  a  priori, 

The  Critique  of  Reason  becomes,  therefore,  the  Critique  of  Culture. 
It  seeks  to  show  how  all  the  content  of  culture,  in  so  far  as  it  is  more 
than  a  mere  single  content,  in  so  far  as  it  is  grounded  in  a  formal  prin- 
ciple, presupposes  an  original  act  of  the  mind.  Herein  the  fundamental 
thesis  of  Idealism  finds  its  essential  and  complete  verification.  So  long 
as  philosophical  consideration  has  reference  simply  to  the  analysis  of 
purely  formal  knowledge  and  is  limited  to  that  task,  just  so  long  the  force 
of  the  naive  realistic  world  view  cannot  be  broken.1* 

An  initial  clue  to  Cassirer's  position  here  is  revealed  in  his 
statement  of  the  demand  made  upon  critical  philosophy.  The 
demand  is 

...  to  include  the  various  methodological  tendencies  of  knowledge,  in 
all  their  recognized  originality  and  independence,  in  a  system  in  which 
the  individual  members,  in  exactly  their  necessary  variety,  are  reciprocally 
conditioned  and  required.  The  postulate  of  a  kind  of  pure  functional 
unity  now  enters  in  the  place  of  the  postulate  of  the  unity  of  the  sub- 
strate and  the  unity  of  origin,  by  which  the  ancient  concept  of  being 
was  essentially  governed.  From  this  there  arises  a  new  task  for  the  phil- 
osophical criticism  of  knowledge.  It  must  follow  as  a  whole  and  survey 
as  a  whole  the  course  which  the  special  sciences  have  traveled  individually. 
It  must  put  the  question,  whether  the  intellectual  symbols  under  which 
the  special  disciplines  consider  and  describe  reality  are  to  be  thought  as 

18 Philosofhie  der  symbotischen  Former*.  Vol.  I  (1923),  n. 


DOCTRINE  OF  THE  A  PRIORI  161 

a  simple  juxtaposition  or  whether  they  can  be  understood  as  different 
expressions  of  one  and  the  same  basic  mental  junction.  And  if  this  latter 
presupposition  should  be  verified,  then  there  arises  the  further  task  of 
setting  up  the  universal  conditions  of  this  function  and  of  clarifying  the 
principle  by  which  it  is  governed.17 

In  the  light  of  this  statement,  it  would  seem  that  Cassirer's 
first  fundamental  assumption  is  that  knowledge,  which  philoso- 
phy is  to  subject  to  critical  analysis,  is  necessarily  a  unity;  and, 
furthermore,  that  this  unity  must  be  assured  and  explained  in 
terms  of  certain  "basic  mental  functions"  and  a  "rule"  which 
"governs  the  concrete  multiplicity  and  variety  of  these  knowl- 
edge functions,"  integrating  the  totality  of  their  products  into 
an  organic  whole.  These  "basic  mental  functions"  for  which  all 
the  varieties  of  intellectual  symbols  are  to  be  regarded  as  differ- 
ent expressions,  together  with  the  "rule"  which  governs  these 
functions,  seem  now  to  constitute,  for  Cassirer,  the  fundamental 
a  priori  elements  of  knowledge.  The  categories,  which  Kant 
considered  as  the  "original  concepts  of  the  understanding,"  as 
its  basic  a  priori  forms  and  the  necessary  conditions  for  the  possi- 
bility of  experience,  are  here  relegated  to  a  subordinate  level 
in  the  structure  of  the  a  priori.  Kant's  error,  both  as  to  the 
number  and  nature  of  these  categories,  says  Cassirer,  was  due  to 
the  fact  that  he  did  not  know  at  that  time  what  the  subsequent 
developments  in  "critical  and  idealistic  logic"  have  made  com- 
pletely clear  on  that  point,  namely,  that 

the  forms  of  judgment  mean  only  unified  and  living  motives  of  thought, 
which  pervade  all  the  diversity  of  its  special  forms  and  are  constantly  en- 
gaged in  the  creation  and  formulation  of  ever  new  categories.  The  richer 
and  more  plastic  these  variations  prove  to  be,  the  more  do  they  testify 
to  the  individuality  and  to  the  originality  of  the  logical  function  out  of 
which  they  arise.18 

In  the  light  of  these  considerations,  critical  analysis  must, 
according  to  Cassirer,  be  extended  to  the  whole  of  culture,  to  all 
its  different  "phases"  or  "provinces,"  Art,  Language,  Myth, 

17  Ibid.,  8-9.  Italics  are  mine. 

18 Das  Erkenntnisfroblem.  Vol.  I  (1922),  18. 


162  I.  K.  STEPHENS 

Religion,  and  Science,  and  to  all  the  different  levels  of  its  de- 
velopment. For, 

It  is  proper  not  only  for  Science,  but  for  Language,  for  Art,  and  for 
Religion,  that  they  supply  the  building  materials,  from  which  is  con- 
structed for  us  not  only  the  world  of  the  "real,"  but  also  the  world  of 
the  "mental,"  the  world  of  the  "ego."  We  cannot  insert  them  in  the 
given  world  as  simple  creations,  but  must  concewe  them  as  functions,  by 
means  of  which  every  specific  fashioning  of  Being  and  every  special 
division  and  differentiation  of  the  same  is  carried  out.19 

Each  of  these  special  "provinces"  is  determined  by  a  special 
"point  of  view"  which  the  mind  "freely  takes"  with  respect 
to  the  given  in  experience.  This  special  point  of  view  determines 
a  special  function  which  governs  the  mind's  dealings  with  the 
given,  in  that  special  province.  It  determines  the  formulation 
of  the  categories  and  the  concepts  by  means  of  which  the  mind 
interprets  and  expresses  the  real  from  that  specific  "point  of 
view."  In  each  of  these  special  provinces,  therefore,  we  get  a 
manifestation  of  "one  side  of  the  real."  And  in  all  these  prov- 
inces, taken  together  as  a  unity,  we  get  a  complete  picture  of 
the  totality  of  the  real.  True,  the  pictures  of  the  real  presented 
from  these  different  "points  of  view"  are  very  dissimilar.  But 
this  is  just  what  we  should  expect.  For, 

Since  the  means  utilized  by  these  functions  in  the  performance  of  these 
acts  are  different,  and  since  the  standards  and  the  criteria  which  each 
separate  one  presupposes  and  applies  are  different,  the  result  is  different. 
The  scientific  conception  of  truth  and  of  reality  is  different  from  that 
of  Religion  or  of  Art — thus  it  is  indeed  a  special  and  incomparable 
fundamental  relation  which  is,  not  so  much  indicated,  as  rather  estab- 
lished in  them  between  the  "inner"  and  the  "outer,"  between  the  Being 
of  the  ego  and  of  the  world.20 

The  results  obtained  in  each  of  these  provinces  must,  there- 
fore, be  measured  and  evaluated  in  terms  of  its  own  standards 
and  not  in  terms  of  the  standards  and  demands  of  any  other. 
And  only  in  such  manner  of  dealing  with  them  can  the  question 

10 Philosophic  der  symbolischen  Formen.  Vol.  I  (1923),  24. 
*lbit. 


DOCTRINE  OF  THE  A  PRIORI  163 

be  raised  "whether  and  how  all  these  different  forms  of  world- 
comprehension  and  I-comprehension  can  be  unified — if  they  do 
not  indeed  portray  one  and  the  same  self-existing  'thing',  they 
at  least  perfect  (ergdnzen)  a  totality,  a  unified  system  of  mental 
performance  (Tuns)"21 

Now  if,  under  these  conditions,  the  unity  of  knowledge, 
which  it  is  the  specific  function  of  the  a  priori  to  guarantee, 
seems  to  fall  apart  into  several  separate  provinces  of  knowledge, 
each  with  its  own  a  priori  forms,  its  special  categories,  standards 
and  criteria,  which  apply  only  within  its  own  special  field  of 
"construction,"  Cassirer  informs  us  that  it  is  just  as  much  the 
function  of  the  a  priori  to  preserve  this  diversity  as  it  is  to 
guarantee  the  unity  of  knowledge.  This  "unity  in  diversity'"  he 
says,  is  an  essential  demand  of  consciousness.  In  spite  of  this 
essential  diversity,  there  is  still  a  "unity  of  meaning"  which 
binds  all  these  provinces  together  into  a  "unity  of  systems" 
without  destroying  the  separate  and  distinctive  meaning  and 
value  of  any  system.  This,  he  insists,  is  just  what  an  analysis  of 
culture  reveals. 

For  every  one  of  these  "connections  of  meaning"  (Bedeutungszusam- 
menhange),  Language  as  well  as  scientific  knowledge,  Art  as  well  as 
Myth,  possesses  its  own  constitutive  principle  which  impresses  all  the 
special  fashionings  in  it  as  if  with  its  seal.  ...  It  belongs  to  the  essence 
of  consciousness  itself,  that  no  content  can  be  posited  in  it  without,  posit- 
ing, at  the  same  time,  through  this  simple  act  of  positing,  a  complex  of 
other  contents  with  it.22 

Myth,  Art,  Language,  and  Science  are,  in  this  sense,  impressions  to 
Being  (Pragungen  zum  Sein):  They  are  not  simple  portrayals  of  a 
present  reality,  but  they  exhibit  the  great  lines  of  direction  of  mental 
movement,  of  the  ideal  process,  in  which  the  real  as  one  and  many  is 
constituted  for  us — as  a  multiplicity  of  configurations,  which  are  still, 
ultimately,  held  together  through  a  unity  of  meaning.23 

One  ground  on  which  Cassirer  rejects  the  single  system  of 
the  structure  of  the  mind,  which  speculative  philosophers  of 

21  Ibid. 

22 ibid.,  3i. 

23  Ibid.,  43.  Italics  mine. 


164  I.  K.  STEPHENS 

the  past  have  attempted  to  deduce  from  a  "single  original 
principle"  and  to  arrange  in  a  unique  progressive  series,  is  the 
fact  that  such  a  system  is  inadequate  for  the  explanation  of  this 
diversity.  Explained  in  terms  of  such  a  system,  the  diversity 
gets  swallowed  up  in  the  unity  of  the  system.  Instead  of  such  a 
system,  says  Cassirer,  critical  philosophy  demands,  and  the 
analysis  of  culture  reveals,  a  complex  system  in  which 

Every  form  is,  so  to  speak,  assigned  a  special  plane  within  which  it 
operates  and  in  which  it  unfolds,  with  complete  independence,  its  own 
specific  individuality — but  just  in  the  totality  of  these  ideal  modes  of 
operation  appear,  at  the  same  time,  definite  analogies,  definite  typical 
modes  of  relating,  which  can  be  singled  out  and  described.24 

Now  as  a  means  of  explaining  how  all  these  various  levels 
and  phases  of  culture  are  integrated  into  a  logically  unified 
system  of  systems,  Cassirer  appeals  to  that  set  of  "fundamental 
relations  upon  which  the  content  of  all  experience  rests."  These 
logical  invariants,  he  claims,  permeate  all  the  forms  which 
determine  all  the  fashionings  of  experience  on  all  the  different 
levels  and  in  all  the  different  phases  of  culture.  From  the 
lowest  level  of  "Expression"  in  terms  of  mythical  concepts, 
through  the  level  of  "Representation"  in  terms  of  the  concepts 
of  language,  to  the  highest  level  of  "pure  Meaning"  compre- 
hended in  terms  of  the  "concepts  of  natural  law,"  he  traces  the 
development  of  culture.  In  doing  so,  he  offers  an  incredible 
array  of  evidence  in  support  of  his  claim  that  the  same  "motive 
of  construction"  and  the  same  basic  "structural  form  of  the 
mind"  persist  through  all  these  different  levels  of  develop- 
ment. Although  he  admits  that,  in  the  advancement  from  stage 
to  stage  in  the  process  of  development,  certain  changes  and 
"transformations,"  certain  "characteristic  metamorphoses" 
occur,  he  still  insists  that  these  "supreme  principles"  remain 
fundamentally  the  same,  though  appearing,  on  each  successive 
level,  under  a  "new  form  and  covering."  With  every  transition 
from  a  lower  to  a  higher  level  of  culture,  there  occurs  a  "trans- 
formation" in  the  "point  of  view"  which  the  mind  takes.  This 

29. 


DOCTRINE  OF  THE  A  PRIORI  165 

transformation  gives  rise  to  new  demands  and  requires  new 
"norms"  in  terms  of  which  to  meet  them.  As  the  development 
proceeds,  there  is  a  constant  "shifting  of  mental  meaning"  and 
"out  of  every  one  of  these  shiftings  there  arises  a  new  'total 
meaning'  of  reality."25 

Even  on  the  mythical  level  of  culture,  says  Cassirer,  we  find 
exhibited,  in  all  its  various  "fashionings,"  a  certain  definite 
"mental  tendency,"  a  "fixed  direction  of  thought,"  which  the 
mind  follows  in  all  its  expressions  of  experience  on  this  level. 
This  fixed  direction  of  thought  he  attributes  to  the  "form  of 
the  mythical  consciousness,"  which  is  "nothing  more  than  the 
unity  of  the  mental  principles  by  which  all  its  constructions,  in 
all  their  variety  and  in  all  their  vast  empirical  richness,  are 
ultimately  governed."26  Also  on  this  level  of  "Expression," 
there  is  a  "unity  of  point  of  view"  under  the  dominance  of 
which  man's  "mytho-religious  intuition"  shapes  all  the  con- 
ceptual devices  by  means  of  which  he  carries  out  the  organiza- 
tion of  society  as  well  as  the  organization  of  the  world.  And 
although  this  "point  of  view"  may  be  more  definitely  deter- 
mined in  each  particular  society  by  the  living  conditions  under 
which  that  society  exists  and  develops,  we  can  clearly  detect, 
as  a  common  element  in  all  of  them,  certain  "general  and  per- 
vading motives  of  construction."27 

The  mental  principles  which  the  mind  employs  in  carrying 
out  these  constructions  are,  Cassirer  claims,  the  general  cate- 
gories which  constitute  the  fundamental  forms  of  the  social 
consciousness  on  this  level  of  cultural  development.  They  re- 
veal, he  says,  "the  lawfulness  of  consciousness,"  the  unity  of  a 
"structural  form  of  the  mind,"  and  are  just  as  genuinely  a  priori 
as  are  the  fundamental  forms  of  "knowledge"  exhibited  on  the 
various  successive  higher  levels  of  cultural  development.  They 
are,  in  fact,  the  logical  ancestors  of  those  forms  5  for  all  those 
forms  of  culture,  Art,  Law,  Science,  and  all  the  rest,  had  their 
genesis  in  this  mythical  consciousness.  Not  one  of  them  had,  in 

85  Philosophie  der  symbolischen  Formen.  Vol.  Ill  (1929),  523. 
96  Philosophic  der  symbolischen  Formen.  Vol.  II  (1925),  16. 
*lbid.,  220. 


1  66  I.  K.  STEPHENS 

the  beginning,  anything  like  a  distinct  and  clearly  defined  form. 
They  can  all  be  traced  back  to  a  primitive  stage  in  which  they 
all  existed  together  in  the  immediate  and  undifferentiated  unity 
of  mythical  consciousness.  And  out  of  this  undifferentiated 
state,  all  those  fundamental  forms  of  knowledge,  space,  time, 
number,  continuity,  property,  and  the  rest,  have  been  de- 
veloped. 

They  are  the  most  general  forms  of  perception,  which  constitute  the 
unity  of  consciousness  as  such,  and,  therefore,  just  as  well  that  of  mythi- 
cal consciousness  as  that  of  pure  knowledge.  In  this  respect  it  can  be 
said  that  each  of  these  forms  must  have  run  through  a  previous  mythical 
stage  before  receiving  its  definite  logical  form  and  impress.28 

It  is  obvious  that  the  world  picture  presented  on  the  level 
of  Myth  is  quite  different  from  that  presented  on  the  scientific 
level.  This  difference,  Cassirer  claims,  is  not  to  be  explained  on 
the  assumption  that  these  world-pictures  are  constructed  on  the 
basis  of  a  difference  in  the  "nature"  or  the  "quality"  of  the 
categories  used,  but  on  the  basis  of  a  difference  in  the 
"modality"  of  the  categories.  Space,  time,  number,  causality, 
and  all  the  rest  of  the  basic  forms  of  consciousness  are  present 
and  effective  on  the  mythical  level  just  as  they  are  on  all  the 
higher  levels  of  culture,  but  with  a  difference  in  "modality." 
By  the  "quality"  of  a  relation  he  means  "the  special  manner  of 
connecting,  by  means  of  which  it  creates  a  series  in  the  whole  of 
consciousness,"  such  as  is  exemplified  in  the  form  of  "together" 
as  compared  with  "successive,"  the  "simultaneous"  as  con- 
trasted with  "successive  connection."  By  the  "modality"  of  a 
relation,  however,  he  means  its  "meaning  for  the  whole" 
(Sinnganzen)  .  This  character  of  a  relation  "possesses  its  own 
nature,  its  own  self-contained  formal  law.  Thus,  for  example, 
that  universal  relation  which  we  call  time  represents  equally  an 
element  of  theoretical  scientific  knowledge,  and  also  an  essential 
moment  for  definite  structures  of  aesthetic  consciousness."29  Al- 
though it  may  seem  that  these  two  senses  in  which  the  concept 


d.,  78. 
P  kilo  sof  hie  der  symbolischen  Formen,  Vol.  I  (19*3),  39. 


DOCTRINE  OF  THE  A  PRIORI  167 

time  is  used,  namely,  as  the  uniform  measure  of  all  change  and 
as  the  rhythmical  measure  of  music,  have  nothing  in  common 
except  the  name}  nevertheless,  says  Cassirer, 

This  unity  of  naming  contains  in  itself  a  unity  of  meaning,  at  least 
in  so  far  as  there  is  posited  in  both  that  universal  and  abstract  quality 
which  we  designate  by  the  expression  "succession."  But  it  is  obviously 
a  special  "manner,"  indeed  a  unique  "mode"  of  succession  which  rules 
in  the  consciousness  of  natural  law,  as  the  law  of  the  temporal  form 
of  events,  and  that  which  rules  in  the  comprehension  of  the  rhythmical 
measure  of  a  tone  structure.80 

Now  the  transition  from  a  lower  to  a  higher  level  in  the  de- 
velopment of  culture  is  always  the  result  of  a  "transformation" 
or  a  "permutation"  in  the  "modality"  of  those  various  funda- 
mental forms  "within  which  alone  thought  and  its  world  are 
possible."  This  "permutation"  in  the  "meaning  for  the  whole" 
seems  to  arise  out  of  a  new  "point  of  view"  with  respect  to  ex- 
perience. And  experience  interpreted  from  this  new  point  of 
view  gives  a  new  world-picture.  In  order  to  express  the  new 
relations  and  meanings  which  emerge  with  this  transformation 
in  the  modality  of  those  fundamental  relational  forms,  the 
mind  is  under  necessity  of  creating  a  new  set  of  concepts.  Even 
the  old  concepts  that  are  retained  on  the  new  level  take  on  an 
entirely  different  meaning  from  that  which  they  express  with 
respect  to  the  lower  level.  For  instance,  the  concept  of  "truth" 
and  the  concept  of  "reality"  have  a  meaning  for  science  which 
is  entirely  different  from  that  which  they  express  on  the  level 
of  myth.  It  is  the  function  of  the  concepts  utilized  on  each  level 
of  culture,  however,  to  express  with  objective  validity  the 
relations  and  meanings  which  are  characteristic  of  that  particular 
level,  i.e.,  those  relations  and  meanings  logically  determined 
by  the  specific  formal  modalities  operative  on  that  particular 
level.  The  function  of  thought  on  all  the  different  levels  of 
culture  is  to  "objectify}"  and  this  is  done  in  each  case  by 
"producing  certain  limitations  and  fixating  certain  permanent 
elements  and  connections  within  the  uniform  flow  of  experi- 

90  ibid. 


168  I.  K.  STEPHENS 

ence."  This  task  is  performed  by  means  of  the  concepts  used. 
Thus  the  concepts  used  on  any  particular  level  of  culture  ex- 
press the  meanings  and  fixate  the  relations  peculiar  to  that 
particular  level  with  a  sufficient  degree  of  logical  necessity  to 
guarantee  their  objective  validity.  But  since  the  concepts  uti- 
lized by  the  mind  on  the  different  levels  are  different,  and 
express  different  meanings  and  relations,  the  world-picture 
presented  on  the  different  levels  will  be  different.  All  these  dif- 
ferent world-pictures,  however,  present  different  views  of  the 
one  total  reality.  And  all  these  different  processes  of  objectifying 
contribute  to  one  and  the  same  ultimate  end,  namely,  the  re- 
duction of  the  world  of  mere  impressions  to  a  logically  in- 
tegrated objective  world. 

The  different  creations  of  mental  culture,  Language,  Scientific 
Knowledge,  Myth,  Art,  and  Religion,  in  all  their  inner  variety,  become, 
therefore,  members  of  one  great  problem  of  connection — manifold  tend- 
encies, all  of  which  are  related  to  the  one  goal  of  transforming  the 
passive  world  of  mere  impressions  .  .  .  into  a  world  of  pure  mental 


expression.81 


The  problem  posed  by  Hume,  however,  was  not  the  problem 
of  developing  in  the  mind  a  system  of  ideas  with  their  necessary 
connections,  but  the  problem  of  finding  a  logical  basis  on  which 
to  guarantee  that  these  necessary  connections  of  ideas  must  hold 
in  the  mind's  dealings  with  matters  of  fact.  In  his  first  formula- 
tion of  his  doctrine  of  the  a  priori,  Cassirer  seems  to  attempt 
to  solve  this  problem,  at  least  in  part,  by  an  implicit  denial  that 
any  such  problem  exists.  He  seems  to  think  that  the  problem 
arose  for  Hume  because  he,  like  Kant  in  the  first  part  of  his 
Critique  of  Pure  Reason,  was  assuming  an  untenable  dualism 
between  a  "mundus  sensibilis'*  and  a  "mundus  intelligibilis" 
In  the  second  formulation,  however,  he  seems  to  realize  more 
fully  that  there  is  some  necessity  of  explaining  how  and  why 
there  must  be  a  necessary  harmony  between  the  conceptual  order 
of  the  mind  and  the  "uniform  flow  of  experience."  Here  the 
"symbol"  becomes  the  mediating  device  which  seems  to  turn 
the  trick.  Symbols,  he  seems  to  think,  are  created  by  "a  pure 


DOCTRINE  OF  THE  A  PRIORI  169 

activity  of  the  mind"  and  are  specifically  and  peculiarly  de- 
signed by  the  mind  to  perform  this  feat.  "All  those  symbols 
appear  from  the  beginning  with  a  definite  claim  to  objective 
value.  They  all  transcend  the  circle  of  the  mere  phenomena  of 
consciousness  and  claim,  in  opposition  to  them,  to  represent  a 
universal  validity."32  In  fact,  their  "structure"  represents  the 
"essential  kernel  of  the  objective,  of  the  real."  Every  symbolic 
structure,  furthermore,  possesses  a  characteristic  "double 
nature."  On  the  one  side,  it  is  essentially  bound  to  the  sensuous; 
but  "its  subjection  to  the  sensuous  contains  in  itself  at  the  same 
time  a  freedom  from  the  sensuous,"  an  essential  connection  with 
the  mental,  with  the  conceptual  order  of  the  mind. 

"In  every  linguistic  'sign',  in  every  mythical  or  artistic 
'image'  appears  a  mental  content  which,  in  and  for  itself,  tran- 
scends the  sensuous,  permuted  Into  the  form  of  the  sensuous, 
the  visible,  the  audible,  the  tastable."33 

Cassirer  attributes  to  Pierre  Duhem  the  credit  for  being  the 
first  to  show  that  only  within  the  structure  of  a  definite  symbolic 
world  is  it  possible  to  approach  the  world  of  physical  reality. 
It  was  his  claim  that  what  first  appears  to  us  as  a  purely  factual 
manifold,  as  a  factual  variety  of  sense  impressions,  gains  phys- 
ical meaning  and  value  only  when  it  is  portrayed  in  the 
province  of  numbers.  This  portrayal,  however,  is  wrongly 
interpreted,  says  Cassirer,  if  we  think  it  simply  consists  in  "sub- 
stituting for  the  individual  contents  given  in  experience  contents 
of  another  kind  and  coinage.  To  every  special  class  of  experi- 
ence, is  co-ordinated  a  special  substrate  which  is  the  complete 
expression  of  its  genuine,  its  essential  'reality'."34 

Now  it  is  Cassirer's  claim  that  the  function  of  mind  in  all  its 
objectifying  processes  is  to  establish  harmony  between  opposites. 
This  harmony,  however,  is  essentially  different  from  the  mere 
matter  of  agreement,  and  requires  a  genuine  synthetic  act  of  the 
mind.  It  seems  to  be  the  function  of  the  symbol  to  mediate  this 
synthesis  and  the  function  of  the  concept  to  "fix"  the  connec- 
tions established  in  the  synthesis.  For  the  first  work  of  the  con- 


88  ibid.,  4i. 

34  Philosophic  der  symbolischen  Formen.  Vol.  Ill   (1929),  478. 


ijo  I.  K.  STEPHENS 

cept,  he  asserts,  is  "to  grasp,  as  such,  the  moments  upon  which 
rests  the  organization  and  order  of  perceptual  reality  and  to 
recognize  them  in  their  specific  meaning.  The  connections  which 
are  posited  implicitly  in  perceptual  existence  in  the  form  of  mere 
'given-withness'  (Mitgegebenheii)  are  developed  from  it.  .  .  ,"35 
Furthermore,  "The  logical  concept  does  nothing  more  than  fix 
the  lawful  order  which  already  lies  in  the  phenomena  them- 
selves y  it  follows  consciously  the  rule  set  up,  which  experience 
follows  unconsciously."36  It  is  the  mind  itself,  guided  by  the 
logical  demands  of  its  "supreme  logical  functions"  which  "sets 
up"  the  rule  which  the  concept  follows  consciously  and  experi- 
ence follows  unconsciously.  Thus  those  functions  seem  to  de- 
termine both  the  conceptual  order  of  the  mind  and  also  the 
"uniform  flow  of  experience,"  and  do  it  in  such  a  fashion  that 
there  must  be  complete  harmony  between  these  two  "op- 
posites."  The  mind's  task  is  to  make  a  synthesis  of  the  two  and 
it  accomplishes  this  feat  by  means  of  the  concept.  For, 

Such  a  "synthesis  of  opposites"  lies  concealed  in  every  genuine  physical 
concept  and  in  every  physical  judgment.  For  we  are  always  concerned 
with  referring  two  different  forms  of  the  manifold  to  one  another  and, 
in  a  certain  measure,  penetrating  them  with  one  another.  We  always 
proceed  from  a  mere  empirical,  a  "given"  plurality;  but  the  goal  of  the 
theoretical  construction  of  the  concept  is  directed  at  changing  it  into  a 
rationally  surveyable,  into  a  "constructive"  plurality.87 

On  the  lower  levels  of  culture,  these  concepts  and  symbols 
are  so  completely  immersed  in  the  sensuous  that  it  is  difficult 
to  detect  in  them  any  connection  with  those  "fundamental  func- 
tions" of  the  mind  which  they  express.  As  the  process  of  objecti- 
fying advances  from  the  lower  to  the  higher  levels,  however, 
the  mind  gradually  succeeds  in  extricating  them  from  their 
subjection  to  and  their  contamination  with  the  sensuous  and  in 
creating  concepts  and  symbols  which  reveal  more  and  more  the 
genuine  nature  of  those  functions.  On  the  lower  levels,  we  see 
those  forms  only  "as  if  through  a  glass  darkly,"  only  in 
their  distorted  "modalities;"  but  when  the  highest  level  is 


85  Ibid.y  330. 

M  I***.,  333- 
87  Ibid.,  480. 


DOCTRINE  OF  THE  A  PRIORI  171 

reached,  the  level  of  pure  mathematics  and  the  pure  math- 
ematical natural  sciences,  where  they  have  "put  off  the  cor- 
ruptible and  put  on  incorruption,"  we  shall  "see  them  face  to 
face"  and  recognize  them  for  what  they  genuinely  are,  "pure 
meanings."  This  is  the  ultimate  end  towards  which  the  whole 
creative  process  is  directed,  the  "one  far-off  divine  event  to 
which  the  whole  creation  moves."  For  this  is  the  realm  in  which 

the  bond  between  "concept"  and  "reality"  is  severed  with  complete 
consciousness.  Above  "reality,"  as  the  reality  of  phenomena,  is  raised 
a  new  realm:  The  realm  of  pure  meaning;  and  in  it  henceforth  is 
grounded  all  certainty  and  all  constancy,  all  final  truth  of  knowledge. 
On  the  other  hand,  the  world  of  "ideas,"  of  "meanings,"  although  it 
renounces  all  "similarity"  with  the  empirical  sensuous  world,  it  cannot 
dispense  with  its  relation  to  it.88 

Ill 

This  is,  admittedly,  an  inadequate  and  in  some  respects,  no 
doubt,  an  erroneous  exposition  of  Cassirer's  doctrine  of  the 
a  priori.  It  has  omitted  many  aspects  of  his  doctrine  which,  if 
taken  into  consideration,  might  effect  a  "transformation"  in 
the  "modality"  of  those  aspects  that  are  considered  here.  My 
first  reaction  to  the  whole  delineation  of  his  doctrine  of  the 
a  priori  is  simply  to  regard  it  as  an  extremely  thorough,  meticu- 
lously painstaking  attempt  on  the  part  of  another  brilliant 
philosopher  to  elaborate  and  defend  a  theory  of  the  0  priori 
which  is,  from  the  beginning,  palpably  indefensible.  A  careful 
analysis  of  his  doctrine,  however,  reveals  many  points  which, 
if  taken  in  isolation  from  the  rest  of  his  system  or  if  given  a 
slightly  different  interpretation  from  that  which  his  whole 
system  demands,  would  appear  perfectly  sound  and  thoroughly 
defensible.  This  slight  difference  in  interpretation  is,  however, 
to  use  Whitehead's  expression,  "just  that  slight  difference 
which  makes  all  the  difference  in  the  world." 

To  his  claim  that  the  a  priori  is  of  the  mind  and  is  the  basis 
of  all  necessity  and  of  all  certainty  in  knowledge,  I  readily 
agree.  But  I  contend  that  his  conception  of  the  essential  nature 
of  the  a  priori  is  untenable,  both  in  the  light  of  logic  and  from 

18  ibid.,  527. 


172  I.  K.  STEPHENS 

the  standpoint  of  what  is  revealed  in  a  critical  analysis  of 
knowledge.  Furthermore,  such  a  conception  of  the  a  priori 
is  inadequate  as  a  basis  for  explaining  and  guaranteeing  that 
type  of  necessity  which  grounds  the  only  type  of  certainty  which 
the  mind  can  have  with  respect  to  matters  of  fact.  An  analysis 
of  knowledge  does  not  reveal  any  set  of  invariant  principles 
which  are  necessarily  common  to  all  thinking  minds  and  which, 
by  some  inherent  logical  power  which  they  possess,  are  opera- 
tive in  any  of  the  mind's  categories  and  concepts  in  such  a 
fashion  as  to  force  their  character  of  logical  necessity  upon  the 
given  in  experience.  The  a  priori  character  of  any  concept  or 
category  of  the  mind  is  not  derived  from  any  logical  connection 
which  it  may  have  with  any  fundamental  set  of  "basic  func- 
tions ;"  but  from  the  definitive  attitude  of  the  mind  which  gives 
rise  to  this  conceptual  order  and  determines  the  characteristics 
which  the  given  must  exhibit,  if  it  is  to  be  classified  under  the 
category  or  the  concept  determined  by  that  definitive  attitude. 
The  only  certainty  the  mind  can  have  with  respect  to  any  sensory 
datum  yet  to  be  given  rests  upon  the  mind's  certainty  with 
respect  to  the  meaning  of  its  own  concepts  and  categories.  This 
meaning  is  established  and  determined  by  the  mind  itself,  by 
virtue  of  the  definitive  attitudes  which  it  takes,  and  can  be 
strictly  and  consistently  adhered  to  regardless  of  what  may  be 
given  in  experience.  This  definitive  attitude  determines  the 
criteria  which  any  given  datum  must  satisfy  if  it  is  to  be  in- 
terpreted under  the  concept  or  under  the  category  which 
embodies  and  expresses  these  criteria.  Failing  to  satisfy  these 
criteria,  the  given  datum  is  excluded  from  such  classification 
and  interpretation.  For  every  classification  which  the  mind 
makes  is  an  implicit  interpretation.  But  every  interpretation  is 
an  implicit  prediction  with  respect  to  some  subsequent  datum  of 
experience.  The  interpretation  of  any  set  of  sensory  data  under 
any  definite  concept  or  category  implicitly  asserts  that  such  a 
set  of  data  will  be  followed  by  certain  other  definitely  specifiable 
data,  namely,  those  which  are  implicitly  demanded  by  the 
definitive  criteria  which  constitute  the  essential  meaning  of  the 
concept  or  the  category  under  which  the  original  data  were 
classified.  The  only  necessity  which  the  mind  can  impose  on  the 


DOCTRINE  OF  THE  A  PRIORI  173 

given,  therefore,  is  the  necessity  which  the  given  is  under  of 
conforming  to  certain  definitive  criteria  of  the  mind  or  else 
being  excluded  from  classification  and  interpretation  under  the 
specific  concept  or  category  which  those  definitive  criteria  es- 
tablish. The  mind  can  know,  then,  prior  to  the  experiencing  of 
any  particular  datum  of  experience,  the  character  which  that 
particular  datum  must  exhibit  if  it  is  to  be  classified  under  any 
definite  concept  or  category.  The  mind  knows  this  because  the 
mind  itself,  by  its  own  definitive  attitudes,  determines  those 
criteria  to  which  the  datum  must  conform,  or  elsey  and  can  make 
them  hold  regardless  of  what  the  given  datum  may  or  may  not 
do.  Thus  all  the  necessity  which  the  mind  is  capable  of  imposing 
on  the  given,  through  the  use  of  its  "conceptual  order,"  is 
derived  (i)  from  the  character  of  its  own  legislative  acts  which 
determine  the  essential  meaning  of  its  conceptual  devices  and, 
(ii)  from  the  alternative  which  the  mind  has  of  excluding  from 
classification  under  any  concept  or  category  any  given  element 
of  experience  which  does  not  conform  to  the  criteria  which  are 
established  by  those  legislative  acts  for  the  concept  or  the  cate- 
gory in  question.  Such  necessity,  therefore,  does  not  rest  upon 
some  logical  connection  which  these  concepts  and  categories 
have  with  some  "fixed  system  of  conditions,"  relative  to  which 
alone  any  assertion  concerning  anything  whatsoever  can  have 
any  meaning.  This  contention  of  Cassirer  reflects  the  powerful 
influence  of  his  undue  predilection  for  mathematics,  and  also  his 
misconception  of  the  genuine  nature  of  mathematics  itself. 

There  is  a  definite  sense  in  which  the  a  'priori  principles  of 
knowledge  may  be  considered  as  the  "formal  structure  of  the 
mind,"  but  not  the  sense  in  which  Cassirer  uses  the  expression. 
Those  initial  principles  and  criteria  of  interpretation  which 
formulate  the  mind's  definitive  attitudes  constitute  the  formal 
conceptual  structure  with  which  the  mind  meets  and  interprets 
the  given  in  experience.  It  is  in  this  way  that  the  mind  organizes 
and  systematizes  the  chaotic  flux  of  the  given  into  a  predictable 
and  intelligible  world.  This  conceptual  "structure  of  the  mind," 
however,  is  neither  an  inherent  structure  of  all  thinking  minds } 
nor  is  it  by  any  means  invariant.  Even  those  most  fundamental 
categories  of  the  mind,  those  which  formulate  the  mind's  de- 


174  I.  K.  STEPHENS 

finitive  attitudes  that  determine  the  different  types  of  the  real, 
are  not  invariant,  at  least  not  in  the  sense  that  they  must  remain 
the  same  regardless  of  any  change  in  the  complexity  of  the 
given  which  the  mind  must  encounter}  or  regardless  of  any 
possible  change  in  the  dominant  interests  and  purposes  of 
society.  In  fact,  it  seems  to  be  carrying  the  defense  of  a  claim 
to  the  point  of  absurdity  to  insist  that  those  "rational  functions" 
which  Cassirer  designates  as  "the  ultimate  invariants  of  ex- 
perience itself"  have  remained  invariant  throughout  the  history 
of  culture.  Furthermore,  if  the  character  of  invariance  be  desig- 
nated as  the  criterion  of  the  a  priori,  I  doubt  that  any  single 
"element  of  form,"  not  even  excepting  such  forms  as  Space, 
Time,  Number  and  Magnitude,  Permanence  and  Change, 
Causality  and  Reciprocal  Interaction  would  qualify  as  a  priori; 
for  these  fundamental  forms  have  certainly  undergone  rather 
remarkable  change  in  the  process  of  man's  cultural  develop- 
ment from  the  primitive  level  to  its  present  state.  Cassirer  does, 
of  course,  allow  for  certain  "shiftings  of  intellectual  accent" 
and  certain  "modal  transformations"  in  the  process  j  but  I  doubt 
whether  the  difference  between  the  primitive  man's  vague  sense 
of  time  and  of  space  and  the  modern  scientist's  conception  of  a 
fused  space-time  can  be  explained  in  terms  of  such  "shiftings" 
and  "transformations  ;"  or  whether  man's  hazy  anthropo- 
morphic conception  of  a  mythical  causal  agent  could  be  recon- 
ciled in  this  way  with  the  purely  formal  definition  of  cause  as  it 
is  used  today  by  the  theoretical  scientist.  If  the  change  be  ex- 
plained in  terms  of  a  refinement  in  definition,  it  can  be  said  in 
reply  that  a  relation  is  what  it  is  by  definition,  and  any  refine- 
ment in  definition  means  a  change  in  the  nature  of  the  relation. 
Even  those  forms  are  creations  of  the  mind;  and  what  the  mind 
has  created  it  can  change  when  the  demand  arises.  And  the  de- 
mand for  such  a  change  is,  usually,  not  merely  a  logical  demand, 
but  a  practical  one,  a  demand  created  by  the  appearance  of  some 
new  type  of  the  "given"  for  the  proper  interpretation  of  which 
the  previous  forms  have  proven  inadequate. 

The  relative  permanence  of  these  forms  and  also  their  a 
priori  character  I  would  readily  grant;  but  I  would  deny  that 
they  are  invariant  and  also  that  invariance  is  the  criterion  for 


DOCTRINE  OF  THE  A  PRIORI  175 

the  determination  of  the  a  priori  character  of  any  form.  It  may 
be  that,  to  paraphrase  Wordsworth,  "Each  hath  had  elsewhere 
its  origin  and  commeth  from  far"  and  that  each  does  come 
"trailing  clouds  of  glory."  Such  clouds  of  glory  may  be  marks 
of  their  ancient  origin  j  but  neither  the  clouds  of  glory  nor  its 
ancient  origin  is  a  mark  of  its  a  priori  character.  In, the  case  of 
these  forms,  as  in  the  case  of  all  other  forms  and  "functional  re- 
lations of  rational  and  empirical  knowledge,"  whatever  char- 
acter of  the  a  priori  they  may  possess  is  due  to  a  definitive 
and  legislative  act  of  the  mind  itself.  Whatever  degree  of 
permanence  or  invariance  they  may  show  is  explicable,  I  think, 
on  the  grounds  of  their  practical  value  as  instruments  for  han- 
dling the  given,  and  not  on  the  grounds  that  they  satisfy  some 
"ideal  logical  demand."  Furthermore,  if  invariance  and  an- 
tiquity of  origin  be  sure  marks  of  the  a  priori,  then  I  see  no 
grounds  on  which  to  exclude  the  category  of  substance,  against 
which  Cassirer  so  vigorously  inveighs  throughout  his  entire 
system  j  for  certainly  this  category  has  as  ancient  and  as  honor- 
able a  history  as  can  be  claimed  for  any  of  those  "functional 
relations"  to  which  he  attributes  the  a  priori  character. 

It  is  true,  as  Cassirer  claims,  that  Culture,  in  all  its  different 
forms  and  on  all  its  different  levels,  is  a  creation  of  the  mind. 
It  includes  all  those  devices,  both  mental  and  physical,  which 
the  mind  has  created  for  the  purpose  of  handling  the  given  in 
experience  and  of  reducing  that  given  to  an  ordered  and  in- 
telligible world.  It  seems  to  be  the  characteristic  function  of  the 
mind  to  create  just  such  conceptual  tools  and  to  use  them  to 
this  definite  end.  The  "original  motive"  which  lies  behind  this 
"constructive  activity,"  however,  is  not  a  "will  to  logic,"  but 
a  "will  to  live,"  a  will  to  satisfy  certain  vital  and  emotional 
interests  of  the  organism.  And  it  is  the  "will  to  live"  rather 
than  a  "will  to  logic"  which  tends  to  determine  those  definitive 
attitudes  of  the  mind  and,  thus,  the  nature  and  meaning  of  its 
categories  and  concepts.  Cassirer,  it  seems,  would  insist  that 

There's  a  Logic  that  shapes  our  concepts, 
Rough-hew  them  how  we  will. 

I  would  insist  on  substituting  for  "logic"  certain  vital  and  emo- 


176  I.  K.  STEPHENS 

tional  interests  of  the  organism.  For  the  thinking  organism, 
confronted  with  the  chaotic  welter  of  experience,  is  confronted 
likewise  with  a  practical  necessity  of  doing  something  about  it. 
Otherwise  I  doubt  that  any  tendency  to  think  would  ever  have 
arisen.  The  ability  to  think  is,  I  take  it,  an  evolutionary  product, 
and  has  developed  in  the  human  species  as  a  result  of  its  sur- 
vival value.  The  tendency  to  regard  man  as  primarily  a  "think- 
ing being"  rather  than  as  an  "acting  being"  has  led  to  many 
misinterpretations  of  the  function  of  mind.  Mind's  function 
is  not  that  of  "harmonizing  thought  and  Being,"  but  rather  that 
of  adjusting  the  organism  to  the  chaotic  flux  of  experience  in 
ways  that  will  preserve  and  promote  certain  vital  and  emotional 
interests  which  the  organism  has.  This  function  it  performs  by 
taking  certain  definitive  attitudes  towards  the  given  in  experi- 
ence and  in  formulating  these  attitudes  into  definite  categories 
and  concepts  which  will  serve  as  efficient  guides  to  the  organism 
in  its  processes  of  adjustment.  Thinking  is  only  one  means 
of  solving  these  problems  of  adjustment  -y  and  most  beings,  who 
have  the  ability  to  think,  generally  use  it  only  when  more 
primitive  means  prove  inadequate.  The  human  mind  itself  is 
only  man's  ability  to  create  and  to  use  conceptual  devices  as  a 
means  to  that  end.  Such  conceptual  devices  are  created  by  the 
mind,  usually,  just  to  serve  that  end.  They  may  be  changed  or 
even  discarded  when  they  prove  inadequate  to  serve  this 
purpose  or  when  the  mind  hits  upon  other  devices  which  serve 
the  purpose  better.  The  standard  against  which  the  mind  is 
constantly  checking  its  categories,  concepts,  hypotheses,  etc.,  is 
not  a  set  of  invariant  logical  functions,  but  usually  the  practical 
results  derived  from  their  application  to  the  flux  of  experience 
and  the  consonance  of  those  results  with  experience  itself. 

Cassirer  admits  that  "No  number  . .  .  'is'  anything  other  than 
it  is  made  in  certain  conceptual  definitions."  This  is  true,  of 
course  j  but  the  same  can  be  truly  said  of  all  the  concepts  and 
categories  which  the  mind  uses.  The  superior  value  which 
number  and  all  other  mathematical  concepts  have  for  deductive 
purposes  rests  upon  the  exactness  and  precision  with  which  they 
may  be  defined.  Again,  the  relations  in  terms  of  which  math- 
ematical concepts  are  defined  are  quantitative  relations  and, 


DOCTRINE  OF  THE  A  PRIORI  177 

therefore,  susceptible  to  more  definite  and  precise  expression 
and  analysis  than  are  those  with  which  ordinary  classificatory 
concepts  are  defined.  The  very  essence  of  number  is  simply  a 
definite  position  in  a  purely  logical  series.  Number  is  not  a 
"concrete  universal,"  but  a  purely  abstract  universal,  a  purely 
logical  entity,  the  quintessence  of  abstraction.  The  relata  them- 
selves are  creations  of  the  mind  and,  for  that  reason,  the  mind 
is  able  to  force  them  to  conform  to  relations  established  by  its 
concepts.  The  given  sensory  data  of  experience,  however,  are 
not  created  by  the  mind  and  cannot  be  forced  to  conform  to 
those  relations.  They  either  do,  or  they  do  not.  If  they  do  not, 
the  mind  has  the  alternative  of  excluding  them  from  classifica- 
tion under  the  concept  which  established  those  relations.  Upon 
this  ability  of  the  mind  to  formulate  concepts  by  definition,  and 
to  reject  from  classification  and  interpretation  under  those  con- 
cepts any  datum  which  does  not  conform  to  the  criteria  which 
their  definitions  establish  rests  the  a  priori  character  of  all  con- 
cepts, mathematical  as  well  as  the  ordinary  generic  concepts. 

Mathematics  is,  in  its  entirety,  a  creation  of  the  mind  and  is 
the  most  efficient  tool  for  handling  certain  types  of  the  given — 
those  types  in  which  the  quantitative  aspects  are  more  important 
than  are  the  qualitative  aspects — that  the  mind  has  ever  created. 
Mathematics,  however,  demands  nothing  more  than  that,  if  a 
certain  relation  holds  among  a  certain  set  of  entities,  be  they 
abstract  or  be  they  concrete  entities,  then  certain  other  sets  of 
relations  must  also  hold  among  those  same  entities.  But  those 
certain  other  sets  of  relations  which  must  hold  are  implications 
of  the  definition  which  established  the  meaning  of  the  original 
relation.  If  three  points  in  a  plane  are  arranged  in  the  form 
of  a  right  triangle — these  are  all  pure  abstractions — ,  then  the 
square  on  the  hypotenuse  must  be  equal  to  the  sum  of  the 
squares  on  the  other  two  sides.  The  certainty  of  the  statement 
contained  in  the  "then"  clause  of  this  theorem  is  assured  by  the 
implications  of  the  definition  of  a  right  triangle.  The  relations 
stated  in  the  "then"  clause  can  be  known  to  hold  a  priori,  neces- 
sarily, only  on  the  ground  that  the  mind  is  in  position  to  exclude 
from  the  class  of  right  triangles  all  triangles  which  do  not 
conform  to  the  criteria  specifically  stated  or  implied  in  the 


178  I.  K.  STEPHENS 

definition  of  a  right  triangle.  If  we  substitute  for  these  abstract 
entities  certain  concrete  entities,  a  triangular  plot  of  ground  for 
the  plane  and  fence  posts  for  the  abstract  points,  we  know  that 
the  same  relations  must  hold  among  these  entities  also.  If  we 
measure  accurately  the  distances  between  the  posts  along  the 
shorter  sides  of  the  triangle  and,  upon  these  measurements, 
calculate  accurately  the  length  of  the  supposed  hypotenuse  and, 
then,  upon  these  calculations,  buy  the  wire  to  fence  the  piece 
of  ground,  we  may  come  out  several  rods  short.  Such  a  disap- 
pointing and  inconvenient  result  does  not  constitute  an  empirical 
demonstration  of  the  falsity  of  the  Euclidean  theorem,  but 
demonstrates  the  falsity  of  the  original  assumption  that  the 
posts  were  related  in  the  form  of  a  right  triangle.  It  is  just  this 
character  of  mathematical  concepts  which  makes  them  so  useful 
as  means  of  discovering  relations  among  concrete  entities  which 
would  likely  never  be  discovered  otherwise.  But  the  certainty 
obtained  in  this  way  is  of  the  same  type,  and  rests  upon  the 
same  basis,  as  that  gained  through  the  mind's  application  of  any 
of  its  concepts  to  the  concrete  data  of  experience.  For  all  cer- 
tainty in  empirical  knowledge  rests  upon  the  mind's  ability  to 
formulate  definitions  of  concepts  and  to  make  those  definitions 
hold  with  respect  to  the  given  by  rejecting  all  cases  which  do 
not  conform  to  the  demands  established  in  those  definitions. 
The  application  of  mathematical  concepts  in  the  interpretation 
of  the  given  can,  therefore,  like  the  application  of  any  other 
type  of  concepts,  never  be  more  than  hypothetical.  And  the 
certainty  derived  from  their  application  is  of  the  same  type  as 
that  derived  from  the  application  of  other  types  of  concepts. 
Also  the  a  priori  character  of  mathematical  concepts  is  of  the 
same  nature  as  that  of  any  other  type  of  concepts.  Whatever 
superiority  they  may  have  over  the  ordinary  classifi.catory  con- 
cept is  due  to  properties  which  they  possess  other  than  their  a 
priori  character. 

The  a  priori  is  not  some  inherent  character  of  logical  necessity 
or  "logical  priority  to  the  possibility  of  experience"  possessed  by 
any  relation  or  group  of  relations.  Those  initial  principles  and 
definitive  criteria  which  have  the  character  of  a  priori  necessity 
and  certainty  possess  it  by  virtue  of  the  definitive  attitude  which 
the  mind  takes  toward  them  and  the  alternative  which  the  mind 


DOCTRINE  OF  THE  A  PRIORI  179 

has  of  excluding  from  classification  under  them  any  given  case 
which  fails  to  conform  to  the  definitive  attitude  formulated  in 
them.  The  chemist,  for  instance,  may  know  with  absolute 
certainty  the  truth  of  the  chemical  formula  HC1  +  NaOH  -> 
NaCl  +  H2Oj  but  only  on  the  grounds  that  in  the  case  of  any 
experiment  in  which  these  results  fail  to  follow,  the  chemicals 
used  were  either  not  HC1  or  not  NaOH  or  were  neither  HC1 
nor  NaOH.  In  such  a  case  he  may  demand  either  a  re-labeling 
or  a  re-filling  of  the  containers  from  which  the  chemicals  were 
obtained.  On  this  same  basis,  one  may  assert  with  absolute 
certainty  that  all  crows  are  black.  This  statement  may  be  ac- 
cepted as  a  mere  hypothetical  principle,  susceptible  to  verifica- 
tion or  refutation  by  future  experience,  or  it  may  be  taken  as  a 
definitive  principle  and,  in  that  case,  it  would  not  be  susceptible 
to  refutation  at  all.  It  would  be  an  a  priori  principle.  The  dif- 
ference between  the  two  cases  is  simply  a  difference  in  the 
attitude  which  the  mind  takes  with  respect  to  the  principle.  It 
is  just  such  a  definitive  attitude  of  the  mind  that  establishes  the 
a  priori  character  of  any  principle,  not  excepting  space,  time, 
number,  magnitude,  permanence,  change,  causality,  reciprocal 
interaction,  or  any  other  relation. 

The  assertion  that  this  particular  set  of  "universal  functions," 
or  any  other  particular  set  of  relations  or  presuppositions  "form 
a  fixed  system  5  and  only  relative  to  this  system  do  assertions 
concerning  the  object,  as  well  as  concerning  the  subject,  gain 
any  intelligible  meaning"  is  an  assertion  which  is  not  only  un- 
warranted but  definitely  untenable  in  the  light  of  recent  de- 
velopments in  logic  and  mathematics.  These  developments  have 
definitely  shown  that  various  sets  of  postulates  may  serve  as  a 
logical  basis  from  which  the  same  deductive  system  may  be  de- 
rived. They  have  also  definitely  shown  that  deductive  systems 
are  purely  analytical  and  tautological  and  that  there  are  no 
synthetic  propositions  a  priori.  As  Reichenbach  has  correctly 
said,  "The  evolution  of  science  in  the  last  century  may  be  re- 
garded as  a  continuous  process  of  distintegration  of  the  Kantian 
synthetic  a  priori"™  In  the  light  of  the  combined  results  of  the 
developments  in  science,  mathematics,  and  logic  during  the  last 

*  Hans  Reichenbach,  "Logistic  Empiricism  in  Germany,"  Journal  of  Philosophy ', 
vol.  33  (1936)1  H5- 


i8o  I.  K.  STEPHENS 

century,  it  would  be  difficult,  at  least,  to  justify  the  claim  that 
any  one  set  of  postulates  is  the  only  one  relative  to  which  ex- 
perience would  be  possible}  or  that  any  one  set  of  presupposi- 
tions is  the  only  one  in  terms  of  which  valid  judgments  con- 
cerning the  object  or  the  subject  of  knowledge  can  have  any 
meaning.  It  must  be  admitted  that  some  set  of  logically  prior 
principles  is  necessary  for  the  possibility  of  any  knowledge  of 
anything  at  all.  But  this  logical  priority  is  not  the  inherent 
birthright  of  any  particular  set  of  principles.  If  there  has  ever 
been  any  justification  for  the  Rationalist's  claim  that  any  certain 
set  of  "first  principles"  is  logically  indispensable  for  the  ex- 
planation of  the  experienced  world  of  particulars,  and  that  such 
logical  priority  is  a  guarantee  for  the  truth  of  those  principles, 
the  grounds  for  that  justification  have  been  definitely  elimi- 
nated by  the  revelations  of  modern  logic  and  mathematics  rela- 
tive to  the  nature  of  deductive  systems. 

It  is  true,  of  course,  that  all  knowledge  is  purely  relational 
and  that  man's  whole  categorial  and  conceptual  scheme  is  a 
purely  relational  scheme.  It  is  also  true  that  such  a  relational 
scheme  has  meaning  only  within  a  more  or  less  definitely  fixed 
set  of  "reference  objects"  which  constitute  a  general  "frame  of 
reference"  somewhat  analogous  to  a  set  of  co-ordinate  axes, 
the  points  of  the  compass,  meridians  of  longitudes  and  parallels 
of  latitude,  etc.  Those  relations  which  Cassirer  designates  as  the 
"fixed  system"  of  "supreme  principles"  may  be  regarded,  in  the 
main,  as  just  such  a  system  of  reference  objects,  and  as  consti- 
tuting such  a  "frame  of  reference."  But  such  reference  objects 
are  neither  true  nor  false,  neither  right  nor  wrong.  They  are 
only  methodological  devices  which  render  possible  the  achieve- 
ment of  some  desired  end.  They  may  be  convenient  or  incon- 
venient, adequate  or  inadequate,  for  the  accomplishment  of  this 
end.  And  although  some  such  set  of  "reference  objects"  is  neces- 
sary for  the  accomplishment  of  this  end,  no  particular  set  is 
necessarily  invariant.  Nor  is  any  particular  set  of  such  relations 
indispensable. 

It  is  true,  of  course,  that  no  given  datum  of  experience  ever 
comes  with  its  meaning  attached,  so  that  it  may  be  read  off  by 
the  mind  in  some  sort  of  mtellectuelle  Anschauung  or  some 


DOCTRINE  OF  THE  A  PRIORI  181 

Wordsworthian  state  of  "wise  passiveness."  Each  given  datum 
receives  meaning  only  through  some  interpretive  construction 
being  put  upon  it.  And  interpretation  always  involves  the  ap- 
plication of  some  set  of  distinguishing  and  definitive  criteria  and 
interpretive  principles,  some  set  of  "reference  objects,"  in  terms 
of  which  interpretation  gives  meaning  to  the  given  datum  of 
experience.  Some  such  set  of  "elements  of  form"  must,  there- 
fore, be  logically  prior  to  any  knowledge  at  all.  Such  elements 
are  creations  of  the  mind  and  are  a  priori.  Even  the  most  primi- 
tive judgment  involves  the  implicit  application  of  such  elements 
to  the  object  of  the  judgment.  This  certainly  does  not  imply, 
however,  that  any  particular  set  of  such  a  'priori  elements  can  be 
legitimately  singled  out  and  designated  as  the  only  set  in  terms 
of  which  even  a  meaningful  experience  is  possible. 

If  one  desires,  therefore,  to  seek  for  the  a  priori  either  in  the 
intellectual  creations  of  the  childhood  of  the  individual  or  in 
those  of  the  childhood  of  the  race,  he  will  likely  find  it  there. 
For  the  a  priori  always  serves  as  a  means  for  the  conceptual 
handling  of  "matters  of  fact,"  and  wherever  man  is  engaged  in 
this  sort  of  enterprise  he  will  be  using  it.  It  is  also  true  that  any 
adequate  conception  of  the  a  priori  must  be  one  that  is  applicable 
anywhere,  on  any  level  and  in  any  phase  of  human  experience 
where  the  work  of  an  interpretive  mind  is  recognizable.  On  this 
ground,  there  is  certainly  justification  for  Cassirer's  insistence 
that  certain  a  priori  "elements  of  f orm"  may  be  found  on  every 
level  and  in  every  phase  of  human  experience.  But  I  see  no 
justification  for  his  extension  of  the  Critique  of  Reason  into  a 
Critique  of  Culture  for  the  purpose  of  discovering  the  nature  of 
the  a  priori.  If  his  purpose  was  to  show  that  the  a  priori  consists 
of  a  set  of  invariant  principles,  then  it  seems  to  me  that  his  mon- 
umental efforts  have  turned  out  to  be  a  case  of  "Love's  Labor's 
Lost." 

I.  K.  STEPHENS 

DEPARTMENT  OF  PHILOSOPHY 
SOUTHERN  METHODIST  UNIVERSITY 


4 
Felix  Kaufmann 

CASSIRER'S  THEORY  OF  SCIENTIFIC 
KNOWLEDGE 


CASSIRER'S  THEORY  OF  SCIENTIFIC 
KNOWLEDGE 

I 

FUTURE  writers  of  textbooks  on  the  history  of  philosophy 
will  have  little  difficulty  in  assigning  Ernst  Cassirer  a  place 
within  their  neat  schemes  of  philosophical  doctrines.  He  will  be 
classified  as  a  neo-Kantian,  and,  more  specifically,  as  an  out- 
standing member  of  the  Marburg  school  of  neo-Kantians, 
alongside  of  Hermann  Cohen  and  Paul  Natorp.  Cassirer  him- 
self frequently  professed  his  close  affiliation  with  this  group  of 
thinkers1  and  was  profoundly  influenced  by  Cohen's  interpreta- 
tion of  Kant's  philosophy. 

It  is  one  of  Cohen's  lasting  accomplishments  to  have  shown 
that  Kant's  intuitionistic  theory  of  mathematics,  as  exhibited  in 
some  of  the  arguments  in  his  Transcendental  Aesthetics,  repre- 
sents only  a  transitory,  pre-critical,  stage  in  his  philosophical 
development,  which  led  to  the  transcendental  method  in  the 
strict  sense.  This  can  be  seen  from  Kant's  diary,  as  well  as  from 
a  comparison  of  the  first  edition  of  the  Critique  of  Pure  Reason, 
with  the  Prolegomena  and  with  the  second  edition  of  the  Crit- 
ique. Cohen  submits  that  this  trend  in  Kant's  thought  represents 
genuine  philosophical  progress,  the  full  implications  of  which 
were  grasped  neither  by  Kant  himself  nor  by  the  idealistic 
schools  which  emerged  after  him.  Accordingly,  he  assigns  the 
task  to  his  own  generation  of  philosophers  of  understanding 
Kant  better  than  he  understood  himself,2  just  as  Kant  had  de- 
manded that  we  understand  Plato  better  than  he  understood 

*See  e.g.,  Cassirer's  Preface  to  Determinismus  und  Indeterminismus  in  der 
modemen  Physikt  viii. 

2  See  Preface  to  the  ist  ed.  of  Hermann  Cohen's  Logik  der  Reinen  Erkenntnis, 
xi,  xii. 

185 


1 86  FELIX  KAUFMANN 

himself.  A  substantial  part  of  Cassirer's  life-work  is  an  execution 
of  this  program.  It  will,  therefore,  be  appropriate  to  start  our 
analysis  of  his  theory  of  knowledge  with  a  brief  outline  of  his 
interpretation  of  Kant's  epistemological  doctrine. 

II 

In  a  famous  passage  of  the  preface  to  the  second  edition  of  the 
Critique  of  Pure  Reason  Kant  has  drawn  an  analogy  between 
his  work  and  the  work  of  Copernicus. 

The  experiment  .  .  .  ought  to  be  made,  whether  we  should  not  succeed 
better  with  the  problems  of  metaphysic,  by  assuming  that  the  objects 
must  conform  to  our  mode  of  cognition,  for  this  would  better  agree  with 
the  demanded  possibility  of  a  priori  knowledge  of  them,  which  is  to 
settle  something  about  objects,  before  they  are  given  us.  We  have  here 
the  same  case  as  with  the  first  thought  of  Copernicus  who,  not  being 
able  to  get  on  in  the  explanation  of  the  movements  of  the  heavenly 
bodies,  as  long  as  he  assumed  that  all  the  stars  turned  round  the  spectator, 
tried,  whether  he  could  not  succeed  better,  by  assuming  the  spectator 
to  be  turning  round,  and  the  stars  to  be  at  rest.  (F.  Max  Miiller  trans- 
lation [1896:1922],  693.) 

This  analogy  suggested  the  facile  interpretation  of  Kant's 
philosophy,  of  his  "Copernican  Revolution,"  as  a  subjectivistic, 
anthropocentric  doctrine.  But  more  penetrating  students  of 
Kant — as  were  the  members  of  the  Marburg  school — realized 
that  this  interpretation  is  apt  to  conceal  the  core  of  Kant's  trans- 
cendental method.  They  realized  that  his  approach  was  far  more 
"revolutionary."  He  did  not  try  to  offer  a  new  solution  to  the 
time-honored  problem  of  the  origin  of  knowledge  by  proposing 
a  transformation  which  makes  the  subject  the  initial  system,  the 
"center  of  the  universe."  Kant  rather  disposed  of  the  whole 
problem  in  its  traditional  formulation  by  refuting  all  attempts 
toward  explaining  pre-scientific  and  scientific  experience  in 
terms  of  the  dogmatic  assumption  of  things-in-themselves.  This 
point  is  emphasized  by  Cassirer  time  and  again,  perhaps  most 
forcefully  in  his  analysis  of  Kant's  philosophy  in  the  eighth 
book  of  the  Erkenntnisproblem. 

Kantian  philosophy  is  not  primarily  concerned  with  the  ego,  nor  with 
its  relations  to  external  objects,  but  with  the  principles  and  the  logical 


THEORY  OF  SCIENTIFIC  KNOWLEDGE         187 

structure  of  experience.  Neither  "internal"  nor  "external"  objects  exist 
in-  and  for-  themselves  j  they  are  given  under  the  conditions  of  experi- 
ence. Accordingly,  we  have  to  develop  the  norms  and  rules  of  experi- 
ence before  we  make  statements  about  the  nature  of  things.  Hitherto 
things  and  the  ego  had  to  be  projected  on  a  metaphysical  background, 
to  be  derived  from  a  common  substantial  origin  in  order  to  be  grasped 
in  their  context;  but  now  the  question  takes  a  new  turn.  What  is  now 
sought  is  the  fundamental  logical  form  of  experience  as  such,  which 
must  apply  to  "internal"  as  well  as  "external"  experience.  Knowledge 
with  respect  to  objects  cannot  be  entirely  different  from  knowledge 
with  respect  to  our  ego;  both  kinds  of  knowledge  should  be  united  by 
an  all-embracing  principle.  In  this  principle  we  have  the  genuine,  true 
unity  of  "origin,"  and  we  need  only  go  back  to  this  unity  to  dispose  of 
the  "absolute  contrasts"  presupposed  by  traditional  ontology.  These 
observations  amount  to  a  clear  delineation  of  Kant's  method;  judgments 
about  things  rather  than  things  are  its  theme.  A  problem  of  logic  is 
posed,  but  this  logical  problem  is  exclusively  related  to  and  aimed  at 
that  peculiar  and  specific  form  of  judgment  by  which  we  claim  to  know 
empirical  objects.8 

Kant's  transcendental  method  starts  from  the  fact  of  (scien- 
tific) experience  and  seeks  to  determine  how  this  fact  is  possible. 
In  other  words,  he  clarifies  the  meaning  of  "objective  experi- 
ence." In  making  explicit  the  elements  of  experience  and  the 
different  types  and  levels  of  synthesis  involved,  we  arrive  at 
synthetic  propositions  a  priori.  These  propositions  are  a  priori 
for  experience  inasmuch  as  they  contain  constitutive  principles 
of  experience,  but  they  are  not  independent  of  experience  in  the 
sense  of  being  valid  beyond  the  realm  of  (possible)  experience. 
The  time-honored  ontological  principles  are  found  to  be 
pseudo-principles  and  the  related  ontological  problems  to  be 
pseudo-problems,  as  soon  as  it  is  recognized  that  the  "transcend- 
ent use"  of  the  categories  implied  in  their  formulations  is  ille- 
gitimate. Yet  this  "extermination"  of  ontological  principles  does 
not  amount  to  their  complete  annihilation}  they  are  re- 
interpreted as  regulative  principles  of  scientific  inquiry. 

The  unity  of  empirical  knowledge  is  not  "given"  (gegeberi) 
but  "set  as  a  task"  (auj 'gegeberi) ;  in  other  words,  it  is  not  pre- 
established  by  things-in-themselves,  but  conceived  as  an  ideal, 

*  Erkenntnisfroblem,  Vol.  II,  662  f.  Cf.  also  Vol.  Ill,  3  ff. 


1 88  FELIX  KAUFMANN 

a  guiding  principle,  for  scientific  inquiry.  Critical  philosophy 
seeks  to  grasp  the  nature  of  this  unity  by  analyzing  it  into  its 
elements  and  determining  the  place  of  each  element  within  the 
whole,  in  teleological  terms,  by  determining  its  function  in  the 
constitution  of  the  whole. 

Ill 

In  referring  to  Ms  meaning  of  the  term  "function"  in  Cas- 
sirer's  philosophy,  we  are  led  to  another  strong  influence  in 
shaping  his  thought,  the  influence  of  Hegel.  Broadly  speaking 
— and  making  allowance  for  the  unavoidable  inaccuracy  of  such 
a  formula — we  may  say  that  Cassirer  used  a  somewhat  modified 
Kantian  method  in  promoting  a  goal  set  by  HegeL  Although  he 
is  well  aware  of  the  basic  defects  of  HegePs  metaphysical 
system,4  he  accepts  as  leitmotif  of  his  own  analysis  HegePs 
principle  that  truth  as  the  "whole"  is  not  given  all  at  once  but 
must  be  progressively  unfolded  by  thought  in  its  movement. 
The  unity  of  knowledge  must  be  discovered  in  the  progress  of 
knowledge  from  its  primary  and  primitive  stages  to  "pure" 
knowledge;  it  reveals  itself  in  the  form  of  this  process.  None 
of  the  phases  of  this  process  must  be  disregarded  if  we  are  to 
grasp  the  form  of  the  process.5 

Accordingly,  Cassirer  sets  himself  the  task  of  determining 
what  particular  type  of  unity  is  sought  and  (temporarily)  found 
in  the  different  domains  and  at  the  different  stages  of  human 
thought,  and  he  seeks  to  disclose  how  the  transition  from  one 
stage  to  another  is  necessitated  by  the  inner  dialetic  of  the  move- 
ment of  thought. 

In  his  first  systematic  work,  Substanzbegriff  und  Funktions- 
begn-jfy  Cassirer  was  guided  by  the  idea  that  the  structure  and 
basic  principles  of  knowledge  could  be  most  clearly  discerned  in 
mathematics  and  mathematical  physics,  where  knowledge  had 
reached  its  highest  level.  His  chief  aim  was  to  corroborate  his 
thesis  that  the  progressive  emancipation  of  thought  from  the 
so-called  data  of  immediate  experience  manifests  itself  in  the 
development  of  these  sciences.  This  process  of  emancipation, 

4  See  Erkenntnis'problem,  Vol.  Ill,  362-377. 

9  See  e.g.,  Preface  to  Vol.  Ill  of  Philosophic  der  symbolischen  Formen,  vi  fl. 


THEORY  OF  SCIENTIFIC  KNOWLEDGE         189 

which  can  never  be  completed,  is  most  conspicuous  in  the  re- 
placement of  the  thing-concept  by  the  concept  of  law.  Even  the 
thing-concept  is  an  intellectual  construct  of  a  highly  complex 
structure,  yet  it  shows  a  close  affinity  to  the  (allegedly)  pure 
data  of  immediate  perceptual  experience.  As  long  as  it  is  made 
not  only  the  starting-point  but  also  the  pivot  of  philosophical 
analysis,  a  certain  kind  of  interpretation  of  mental  activity  in 
general  and  of  the  formation  of  scientific  concepts  in  particular 
is  suggested,  an  interpretation  which  has,  indeed,  prevailed  in 
philosophical  thought  from  the  very  outset.  According  to  this 
view  the  activity  of  the  mind  consists  exclusively  in  determining 
and  isolating  common  qualitative  elements  within  the  vast 
variety  of  existing  things,  uniting  them  into  classes,  and  repeat- 
ing this  procedure  as  long  as  possible.  By  comparing  and  dis- 
tinguishing actually  present  objects  of  thought — mathematical 
objects  as  well  as  empirical  objects — we  arrive  at  an  ever  more 
embracing  hierarchy  of  beings.  The  proposed  interpretation 
seems  to  be  in  harmony  with  common  sense  and  to  save  us  from 
a  dualism  between  percept  and  concept.  The  universals  are 
taken  to  be  "in re"  to  be  part  of  the  perceptible  world. 

However,  this  traditional  view  does  not  bear  closer  exami- 
nation. In  the  first  place,  it  fails  to  account  for  the  fact  that 
scientific  (and  even  pre-scientific)  concepts  are  not  random  ag- 
gregates of  qualities,  but  are  established  with  a  purpose.  We  do 
not — as  Lotze  remarked — form  a  class  of  reddish,  juicy,  edible 
things,  under  which  cherries  and  meat  might  be  subsumed  5  and 
the  reason  why  we  don't  do  it  is  that  we  consider  such  a  notion 
quite  irrelevant  for  theoretical  as  well  as  practical  ends.  Ref- 
erence to  it  is  not  supposed  to  be  productive  of  any  new  results. 
Thus  we  are  led  to  the  conclusion  that  qualitative  similarity  is 
not  the  only  basis  in  all  instances  for  the  formation  of  concepts. 
Realizing  that  this  process  involves  judgments  concerning  the 
relevance  of  a  concept  for  the  promotion  of  given  ends,  we  can 
no  longer  maintain  that  the  mental  activity  involved  is  confined 
to  the  recognition  of  qualitative  similarities  or  differences  and  to 
selections  on  this  basis. 

But  this  is  only  half  the  story.  It  might  still  be  suggested  that 
such  a  similarity  is  a  necessary  condition  for  the  formation  of 


190  FELIX  KAUFMANN 

concepts.  But  even  this  view  is  untenable.  What  is  required  is 
rather  a  relation  in  terms  of  which  the  variety  of  (actually  or 
potentially)  given  objects  may  be  ordered.  Such  a  relation  does 
not  dispose  of  the  qualities  of  the  individual  objects  con- 
cerned— if  it  did,  it  would  not  be  of  any  aid  in  investigating 
specific  objects — ;  but  it  replaces  fixed  qualities  by  general  rules 
which  enable  us  to  grasp  uno  actu  a  total  series  of  possible, 
qualitative  determinations.  This  is  of  decisive  theoretical  and 
practical  import.  As  inquiry  proceeds,  thing-concepts  are  gradu- 
ally replaced  by  relation-concepts,  and  a  hierarchy  of  laws, 
stating  invariant  relations  in  terms  of  mathematical  functions, 
occupies  the  place  formerly  held  by  a  hierarchy  of  intrinsic 
qualities.  The  transition  from  Aristotle's  physics  to  Galileo's 
and  Newton's  physics  is  marked  by  this  change  in  the  conceptual 
framework  of  science. 

Cassirer  insists  that  there  are  guiding  principles  in  arranging 
perceptual  material,  even  on  the  pre-scientific  level,  principles 
which  cannot  be  considered  as  inherent  in  the  material  j  but  this 
autonomy  of  form,  this  spontaneity  of  the  mind,  becomes  ever 
more  conspicuous  and  extensive  as  science  advances.  The  totality 
of  experience  as  it  represents  itself  on  any  given  stage  of 
knowledge  is  not  a  mere  aggregate  of  data  of  perception}  it  has 
a  complex  and  intricate  structure  which  constitutes  its  unity. 

But  this  coherence  of  the  body  of  knowledge  established  at  a 
given  time  does  not  exhaust  what  we  mean  by  "unity  of  science." 
There  is,  moreover,  a  "dynamic  unity"  of  scientific  procedure. 
The  dynamic  unity  becomes  manifest  in  the  very  process  of  the 
reconstruction  of  scientific  systems.  Even  if  we  change  most 
general  principles — like  those  of  Newton's  mechanics — ,  which 
we  avoid  as  long  as  less  incisive  changes  in  the  theory  can 
restore  its  agreement  with  the  results  of  observation,  we  do  not 
alter  the  fundamental  form  of  experience,  nor  break  the  con- 
tinuity of  inquiry.  This  is  seen  when  we  consider  that  the  new 
system  is  supposed  to  yield  solutions  of  problems  that  emerged 
within  the  frame  of  the  old  system,  but  could  not  be  solved 
there.  It  would  indeed  be  impossible  to  demonstrate  the  ad- 
vantage of  the  new  system,  unless  there  were  invariant  stand- 
ards of  comparability.  These  standards  are  the  fundamental 


THEORY  OF  SCIENTIFIC  KNOWLEDGE         191 

invariants  of  experience;  to  make  them  explicit  is  the  main  ob- 
jective of  critical  (transcendental)  philosophy,  which,  accord- 
ingly, may  be  regarded  as  the  general  theory  of  the  invariants  of 
experience. 

If  we  say  that  knowledge  of  these  "logical  invariants"  is 
knowledge  a  prioriy  this  should  not  be  taken  to  mean  that  it  is 
prior  (in  time)  to  experience.  It  only  means  that  these  "logical 
invariants"  are  implicitly  presupposed  in  any  valid  statement 
about  facts.  That  is  why  the  notion  of  space,  but  not  that  of 
color,  is  considered  a  priori  in  Kant's  theory  of  knowledge; 
space  is  indeed  an  invariant  for  every  physical  construction; 
color  is  not. 

IV 

When  Cassirer  laid  down  these  views  in  Substance  and 
Function  and  supported  them  by  a  thorough  analysis  of  mathe- 
matical and  physical  terms,  as  they  emerged  in  the  historical 
development  of  these  sciences,  Einstein's  Special  Theory  of 
Relativity  had  only  recently  been  developed  and  the  General 
Theory  had  not  yet  been  formulated.  Cassirer's  analysis  of 
physical  concepts  in  this  work  is  therefore  confined  to  classical 
physics  in  the  strict  sense.  But  soon  after  the  General  Theory  of 
Relativity  had  been  well  established,  Cassirer  extended  his 
analysis  to  both  the  Special  and  the  General  Theory.6 

The  geometry  underlying  Einstein's  General  Theory  of 
Relativity  is  Riemannian  geometry,  which  is  a  "Non-Euclid- 
ean" geometry.  The  Euclidean  parallel  postulate  is  replaced  in 
it  by  the  postulate  that  no  "straight  line"  (geodesic)  can  be 
drawn  through  a  given  "point"  which  is  "parallel"  to  a  given 
"straight  line."  Still  Euclidean  geometry  remains  applicable 
in  the  "limiting  case"  of  weak  gravitational  fields,  like  that  of 
the  earth,  where  the  "curvature  of  space,"  determined  by  the 
strength  of  the  gravitational  field,  comes  close  to  zero.  (Eu- 
clidean space  is  then  interpreted  as  the  space  of  zero-curvature.) 
The  establishment  of  Einstein's  theory  had  been  considered 
by  empiricist  philosophers  as  a  death-blow  to  Kant's  doctrine. 

*  Cf.  Einstein's  Theory  of  Relativity.  (The  authorized  English  translation  of 
this  work  from  the  pen  of  Cassirer  is  printed  as  a  "Supplement" — pp.  347-45 6 — 
in  the  Swabeys'  English  rendition  of  Substance  and  Function;  Open  Court,  1923.) 


192  FELIX  KAUFMANN 

They  claimed  that  his  whole  system  breaks  down  with  the  col- 
lapse of  one  of  its  chief  pillars,  the  aprioricity  of  Euclidean 
geometry.  Is  this  claim  well  founded? 

Even  when  Gauss,  Lobachevski,  Bolyai,  and  Riemann  first 
constructed  systems  of  non-Euclidean  geometries  without,  how- 
ever, applying  them  to  physical  science,  it  had  been  maintained 
that  such  systems  are  in  conflict  with  Kant's  philosophy.  Yet 
this  view  was  certainly  wrong.  What  had  been  demonstrated  by 
the  non-Euclidean  geometries — provided  it  could  be  shown 
that  they  were  free  from  contradictions — was  only  that  the 
Euclidean  postulate  is  not  an  analytical  consequence  of  the 
other  postulates;  but  Kant  had  never  maintained  that  a  system 
of  geometry  different  from  Euclidean  geometry  is  self-contra- 
dictory. Rather  he  had,  in  distinguishing  the  synthetic  a  priori 
from  the  analytical  a  priori,  precluded  such  a  view. 

Kant  did  maintain  that  Euclidean  geometry  is  a  priori  for 
physics;  and  this  statement  cannot  be  squared  with  Einstein's 
General  Theory  of  Relativity.  But  it  is  another  question 
whether  this  fact — and  the  fact  that  space  and  time  cannot  be 
isolated  in  Einstein's  theory  so  that  they  apparently  lose  their 
physical  objectivity — undermines  the  roots  of  Kant's  doctrine. 
Cassirer  submits  that  either  of  these  facts  leaves  the  funda- 
mentals of  critical  philosophy  untouched.  In  support  of  this 
view  he  offers  a  penetrating  analysis  of  the  meaning  of  "physi- 
cal objectivity,"  which  he  prefaces  by  a  declaration  of  the  partial 
independence  of  the  epistemologist  from  the  scientist.  The 
epistemologist  is  bound  to  accept  scientifically  established  facts 
and  laws,  and  these  delimit  indeed  his  universe  of  discourse; 
but  he  is  not  bound  to  accept  the  scientist's  interpretation  of 
these  facts  and  laws  in  general  philosophical  terms,  such  as 
the  term  "objectivity."  The  main  reason  why  the  epistemologist 
is  not  bound  to  accept  the  scientist's  interpretation  is  that  analy- 
sis made  by  the  former  reaches  beyond  that  of  the  scientist. 

Each  answer,  which  physics  imparts  concerning  the  character  and 
the  peculiar  nature  of  its  fundamental  concepts,  assumes  inevitably  for 
epistemology  the  form  of  a  question.  When,  for  example,  Einstein  gives 
as  the  essential  result  of  his  theory  that  by  it  "the  last  remainder  of 
physical  objectivity"  is  taken  from  space  and  time  .  .  .,  this  answer  of  the 


THEORY  OF  SCIENTIFIC  KNOWLEDGE         193 

physicist  contains  for  the  epistemologist  the  precise  formulation  of  his 
real  problem.  What  are  we  to  understand  by  the  physical  objectivity, 
which  is  here  denied  to  the  concepts  of  space  and  time?  To  the  physicist 
physical  objectivity  may  appear  as  a  fixed  and  sure  starting-point  and  as 
an  entirely  definite  standard  of  comparison;  epistemology  must  ask  that 
its  meaning  ...  be  exactly  defined/ 

We  arrive  at  such  a  definition  by  clarifying  the  function  of  the 
notion  of  objectivity  in  physical  inquiry.  Similar  considerations 
apply  to  Kant's  doctrine  that  Euclidean  geometry  is  the  one 
a  priori  true  geometry. 

We  are  no  longer  concerned  with  what  space  "is"  and  with  whether 
any  definite  character,  whether  Euclidean,  Lobatschefskian  or  Rieman- 
nian,  is  to  be  ascribed  to  it,  but  rather  with  what  use  is  to  be  made  of 
the  different  systems  of  geometrical  presuppositions  in  the  interpretation 
of  the  phenomena  of  nature  and  their  dependencies  according  to  law.8 

We  could  say  that  Euclidean  space  was  indeed  a  priori  for 
Newtonian  physics,  since  Euclidean  geometry  is  presupposed 
in  it,  whereas,  by  this  very  token,  Riemannian  space  is  a  priori 
for  the  General  Theory  of  Relativity.  This  interpretation  seems 
to  be  in  harmony  with  Einstein's  view,  lucidly  expressed  in  his 
lecture  on  Geometrie  umd  Erfahrung? 

Kant,  on  the  other  hand,  held  undoubtedly  that  Euclidean 
geometry  would  have  to  underly  physical  science  at  any  stage 
of  its  development,  and  this  view  was  mistaken.  But  to  concede 
this  is  not  to  admit  that  Einstein's  General  Theory  has  refuted 
the  fundamentals  of  Kant's  transcendental  method.  This  method 
can  be  upheld  after  it  has  been  freed  from  some  time-bound 
limitations. 

Commenting  upon  Cassirer's  argument  I  would  suggest  that 
aprioricity  in  a  more  incisive  sense  could  be  claimed  for  some 
topological  properties  of  space.  Hermann  Weyl  has  made  the 
point  (in  his  remarkable  Philosophie  der  Mathematik  und 
Naturwissenschajt  [Munchen,  1927],  97)  that  the  number 
four  of  the  dimensions  of  the  space-time  continuum  is  a  priori 

7  Einstein* 's  Theory  of  Relativity,  (Swabey  tr.)  356. 

8/^.,439. 
'Berlin,  (1921.) 


194  FELIX  KAUFMANN 

in  Kant's  sense.  This  would  imply,  it  seems  to  me,  that  the 
four-dimensionality  of  space-time  is  implicitly  presupposed  in 
perceptual  experience — perceptual  experiences  being  located  in 
four-dimensional  space-time — so  that  it  could  never  be  refuted 
by  perceptual  experience.  This  interpretation  is  in  harmony 
with  Kant's  general  conception  of  synthetic  a  priori  as  per- 
taining to  the  form  of  experience;  and  it  is,  moreover,  sup- 
ported by  modern  psychological  analysis  of  the  structure  of 
perception. 


When  Einstein's  Special  and  General  Theories  had  been 
firmly  established,  they  were  first  regarded  as  a  revolution  in 
physics,  rendering  the  fundamental  notions  and  principles  of 
classical  physics  obsolete.  But  Einstein  himself  has  always 
stressed  the  continuity  of  the  process  of  inquiry  leading  to  this 
theory;  and  nowadays  his  theory  is  considered  the  perfection 
of  classical  physics  rather  than  its  destruction.  But  the  second 
great  event  in  twentieth  century  physics,  the  emergence  of 
quantum  physics,  is  taken  to  be  more  truly  revolutionary,  and 
to  impose  on  us  a  revision  not  only  of  fundamental  physical 
notions,  but  also  of  philosophical  categories,  particularly  of  the 
category  of  causality.  Here,  then,  seems  to  exist  an  even  deeper 
cleavage  between  the  Kantian  theory  for  which  Newton's 
magnum  of  us  represented  the  "fact  of  science"  and  a  theory 
of  knowledge  which  is  in  conformity  with  modern  physics. 

But  even  in  this  case  we  are  cautioned  by  Cassirer  against 
assuming  that  the  transcendental  method  has  been  rendered 
obsolete  by  recent  developments  in  physics.  He  discusses  quan- 
tum physics  in  his  Determinisnws  und  Indeterminismus  in  der 
modernen  Physik™  a  work  which  offers  perhaps  the  most 
accomplished  elaboration  of  his  theory  of  science.  It  is  essential 
for  the  transcendental  method,  Cassirer  points  out,  that  it  deals 
not  directly  with  things  but  rather  with  our  empirical  knowl- 
edge of  things,  more  precisely  with  the  form  of  experience. 
Kant  agrees  with  Hume's  critique  of  the  notion  of  causality 

10 Determinismus  und  Indeterminismus  in  der  modernen  Physik.  (Sub-title: 
Historische  und  systematische  Studien  zum  Kausalproblem.)  Goteburg  (1936). 


THEORY  OF  SCIENTIFIC  KNOWLEDGE          195 

inasmuch  as  it  established  that  there  is  no  innate,  self-evident 
idea  of  causality,  no  subjective  necessity  rooted  in  our  mental 
organization  which  compels  us  to  acknowledge  a  rigid  causal 
nexus  among  phenomena.  But  Kant's  epistemological  analysis 
does  not  stop  at  this  point,  as  did  Hume's.  Whereas  he  admits 
that  the  principle  of  causality  does  not  enable  us  to  state  any 
specific  physical  law,  he  vindicates  this  principle  as  a  "postulate," 
as  a  "regulative  principle"  of  science.  It  is  a  statement  of  the 
resolution  not  to  give  up  the  search  for  causes  and  to  strive  to- 
ward an  ever  more  comprehensive  system  of  knowledge,  a 
resolution  which  is  basic  for  scientific  inquiry. 

Cassirer  is,  of  course,  fully  aware  of  the  fact  that  Kant  had 
not  been  quite  consistent  in  the  development  of  this  idea,  that 
he  had,  in  the  "Analogies  of  Experience,"  offered  a  "deduc- 
tion" of  the  principle  of  causality.  But  this,  Cassirer  declares,  is 
one  more  point  where  we  have  to  understand  Kant  better  than 
he  understood  himself,  if  we  are  to  be  true  Kantians.  We  have 
to  follow  him  only  so  long  as  he  does  not  part  with  his  own 
professed  principles,  the  principles  of  the  transcendental 
method. 

The  preceding  remarks  should  not  create  the  impression 
that  Determinism  and  Indeterminism  in  Modern  Physics  is  pri- 
marily concerned  with  a  defense  of  Kant's  transcendental 
method.  This  is  by  no  means  the  case.  The  object  of  this  book 
is  rather  a  reconsideration  of  the  structure  of  physical  science 
in  the  light  of  the  development  of  quantum  physics.  One  of 
Cassirer's  most  important  points  is  the  distinction  between 
three  types  of  statements  in  physics,  viz.,  a)  statements  of  the 
results  of  measurements  (Massaussagen),  b)  laws,  c)  prin- 
ciples. This  distinction  was  suggested  by  Russell's  theory  of 
types  which  had  been  established  for  the  purpose  of  pre- 
cluding the  emergence  of  antinomies  in  logic  and  Cantorian  set 
theory.  The  theory  of  types  is  governed  by  the  so-called  Vicious 
Circle  Principle:  "Whatever  includes  all  of  a  collection  must 
not  be  one  of  the  collection,"  which  "enables  us  to  avoid  the 
vicious  circles  involved  in  the  assumption  of  illegitimate  totali- 
ties."11 Cassirer's  hierarchy  of  types  of  physical  statements  is 

u  Whitehead-Russell,    Prmcipia   Mathematka,    Vol.    I,    40. 


196  FELIX  KAUFMANN 

meant  to  preclude  similar  predicaments  in  the  analysis  of  em- 
pirical science. 

Concerning  (a):  Statements  of  the  results  of  measurement 
are  attained  by  transposing  reports  of  sensory  experiences  into 
determinations  in  terms  of  numerical  relations.  These  "state- 
ments of  the  first  order"  are  singular  propositions.  They  relate 
to  definite  space-time  points. 

Concerning  (b) :  Realization  that  physical  laws  are  a  distinct 
type  of  physical  statements  implies  rejection  of  the  sensation- 
alists' view — most  vigorously  defended  by  J.  S.  Mill — that  a 
physical  law  is  but  an  aggregate  of  particular  truths,  and  that 
"all  inference  is  from  particulars  to  particulars."  This  view  has 
always  been  one  of  the  chief  targets  of  Cassirer's  criticism.  Time 
and  again  he  has  pointed  out  that  it  is  not  in  accordance  with 
actual  scientific  procedure  and  that  the  great  scientists  of  the 
modern  age,  from  Galileo  on,  were  fully  aware  of  the  hetero- 
geneity of  fact-statements  and  laws.  A  law  is  a  hypothetical 
judgment  of  the  form:  "If  x  then  y;"  it  does  not  connect  single 
magnitudes  with  definite  space-time  points;  rather  it  refers 
to  classes  of  magnitudes,  classes  which  have  an  infinite  number 
of  elements  and  are  thus  inexhaustible  by  simple  enumera- 
tion.12 

Concerning  (c) :  The  distinction  between  fact-statements  and 
laws  had  been  widely  recognized  before;  but  the  difference  be- 
tween laws  and  principles  had  remained  almost  unnoticed. 
Whereas  facts  are  brought  into  a  definite  order  by  laws,  the 
laws  themselves  are  integrated  into  a  higher  unity  by  principles, 
such  as  the  principle  of  the  conservation  of  energy  or  the  prin- 
ciple of  least  action  (which  is  the  most  general  of  all  physical 
principles). 

The  three  types  of  statements  may  be  differentiated  in  a 
formal  way  by  calling  them,  respectively,  "individual,"  "gen- 
eral," and  "universal." 

In  defending  the  tripartition  against  the  tendencies  (repre- 
sented by  Mill)  toward  levelling  down  these  distinctions,  Cas- 
sirer  makes  an  interesting  remark  which  indicates  his  attitude 

M  Determinismus . . .,  5 iff. 


THEORY  OF  SCIENTIFIC  KNOWLEDGE         197 

toward  "dogmatic  empiricism."  "The  defect  of  dogmatic  em- 
piricism," he  points  out, 

does  not  consist  in  its  attempt  to  link  all  knowledge  to  experience  and 
to  recognize  nothing  but  experience  as  a  criterion  of  truth,  but  rather  in 
its  failure  to  go  far  enough  in  the  analysis  of  experience,  in  its  stopping 
short  of  a  clarified  notion  of  it.  It  is  not  infrequently  a  vague  assumption 
of  continuity  that  leads  to  this  attitude;  empiricism  refrains  from  strictly 
separating  the  various  stages  of  knowledge  in  order  to  be  able  to  develop 
them  from  each  other.  But  this  development  is  deceptive,  if  one  seeks  to 
understand  it  as  a  mere  reproduction  of  similarity.  Somewhere  in  the 
process  of  knowledge  we  must  acknowledge  a  genuine  "mutation" 
which  leads  to  something  new  and  independent.13 

The  failure  of  dogmatic  empiricism  to  give  a  proper  account 
of  the  practice  of  physical  inquiry  becomes  most  obvious  in  an 
analysis  of  statistical  laws  which  latter  have  gained  an  ever 
higher  significance  since  Gibbs'  and  Boltzmann's  foundation 
of  statistical  mechanics.  Boltzmann's  kinetical  theory  of  gases 
interprets  the  physical  properties  of  a  gas,  such  as  its  density,  its 
pressure,  its  specific  heat,  as  resultants  of  the  movements  of  its 
molecules}  but  it  does  not  attempt  to  determine  the  move- 
ments of  each  single  molecule.  Some  hypothetical  assumptions 
concerning  statistical  averages,  for  instance  average  velocity,  are 
made,  and  the  behavior  of  the  gas  is  explained  in  terms  of 
these  hypotheses.  It  is  clear  that  such  a  procedure  cannot  be 
interpreted  as  an  inference  from  particulars  to  particulars,  as 
Mill  and  his  disciples  would  have  it. 

There  is  one  more  methodological  conclusion  which  we  may 
draw  from  Boltzmann's  theory,  a  conclusion  which  provides  a 
cue  to  the  philosophical  interpretation  of  quantum  physics, 
namely  that  physics  does  not  attempt  to  answer  every  "Why- 
question"14  which  may  possibly  be  asked,  and  that  its  success  is 
largely  due  to  this  self-restraint,  and  to  a  selection  of  problems 
in  accordance  with  certain  regulative  principles  of  inquiry. 

Having  realized  this,  we  shall  no  longer  maintain  that  Hei- 
senberg's  principle  of  indeterminacy,  which  occupies  a  central 


"Ibid.,  132. 


198  FELIX  KAUFMANN 

place  in  quantum  physics,  means  a  complete  break  with  the 
fundamental  ideas  of  classical  physics.  Heisenberg's  principle 
states  that  the  precision  in  determining  simultaneously  two 
"conjugate  magnitudes,"  such  as  the  position  and  the  velocity  of 
an  electron,  is  limited  by  Planck's  constant  h.  In  the  older  (un- 
critical) view,  which  interpreted  electrons  as  "material  points," 
pre-established  thing-like  entities,  this  principle  seemed  to  in- 
volve sceptical  resignation,  the  acknowledgment  that  the  finite 
human  mind  cannot  trespass  certain  boundaries.  Critical  analysis, 
however,  reveals  that  the  traditional  formulation  of  these 
"insoluble  problems"  is  inadequate,  and  that  the  pertinent 
arguments  of  the  sceptics  lose  their  point  as  soon  as  we  formu- 
late the  problems  adequately.  We  have  to  dispose  of  the  idea 
that  a  material  point  is  a  pre-established  entity,  existing  inde- 
pendently of  the  relations  into  which  it  may  enter,  and  to 
realize  that  "material  point"  is  defined  in  terms  of  the  system 
of  these  relations.  Cassirer  points  out  that  there  is  no  basic 
difference  in  this  respect  between  the  notion  of  a  "material" 
physical  point  and  the  notion  of  an  "ideal"  mathematical  point. 
In  the  so-called  axioms  of  geometry,  a  mathematical  point  is 
"implicitly  defined"  in  terms  of  a  system  of  formal  relations. 
"Material  point,"  on  the  other  hand,  is  implicitly  defined  in 
terms  of  a  system  of  relations  which  we  call  a  physical  theory. 
Hence  "material"  points  are  intellectual  constructs,  as  are 
"ideal"  geometrical  points  j  and  the  demand  that  "absolute" 
locations  should  be  assigned  to  them  is  as  illegitimate  as  would 
be  the  corresponding  demand  for  geometrical  points. 

VI 

We  have  already  mentioned  that  Cassirer's  analysis  of  physi- 
cal theories  is  performed  with  the  purpose  of  corroborating  his 
thesis  that  the  decisive  stages  in  the  advancement  of  science  are 
marked  by  a  progressive  emancipation  from  "naive"  realism, 
which  starts  from  a  conception  of  things-in-themselves  and 
interprets  knowledge  as  a  conformity  of  our  thoughts  with  those 
pre-established  "objects."  Each  new  stage  in  scientific  progress 
is  characterized  by  a  specific  type  of  "objectification,"  by  the 
creation  of  new  scientific  objects,  represented  in  the  symbols 
of  the  language  of  science.  All  of  Cassirer's  elaborate  and  en- 


THEORY  OF  SCIENTIFIC  KNOWLEDGE         199 

lightening  interpretations  of  scientific  theories  are  but  so  many 
variations  of  this  central  theme.  The  same  is  true  of  his  analysis 
of  mathematical  concepts. 

A  substantial  part  of  Substance  and  Function  is  devoted  to  this 
analysis.  Russell's  Principles  of  Mathematics  had,  at  the  time, 
been  published  only  a  few  years  before,  and  Whitehead- 
RusselPs  Principa  Mathematica  had  not  yet  appeared.  The 
number  of  mathematicians  and  philosophers  engaged  in  work- 
ing on  problems  of  the  "foundations  of  mathematics"  was  still 
small.  This  situation  changed  rapidly  during  the  following  two 
decades.  Principa  Mathematica  demonstrated  what  can  be 
achieved  in  the  way  of  a  unification  of  logic  and  mathematics  j 
Hilbert  took  the  final  step  in  the  "formalization"  of  mathe- 
matics, and  Brouwer  advanced  his  criticism  of  the  application 
of  the  principle  of  excluded  middle,  a  criticism  which  seemed  to 
affect  not  only  Cantor's  set  theory,  but  large  sections  of  classical 
mathematics.  Spirited  controversies  between  logicists  (Russell), 
formalists  (Hilbert),  and  intuitionists  (Brouwer)  ensued  and 
attracted  wide  attention  j  and  it  was  generally  assumed  that  basic 
philosophical  issues  were  at  stake.  However,  there  were  only  a 
small  number  of  philosophers  who  were  prepared  to  face  the 
difficulties  in  studying  the  rather  "technical"  books  and  papers 
in  the  field. 

Cassirer  was  one  of  those  few.  In  chapter  IV  of  Part  III  of 
the  third  volume  of  his  Philosofhie  der  symbolischen  Formen 
(1929)  he  offers  a  well-considered  interpretation  of  some  of 
the  major  pertinent  problems,  an  accomplishment  which  de- 
served more  attention  than  it  has  actually  received.  Philosophers 
should  be  grateful  to  him  for  his  placing  these  problems  in 
their  proper  historical  setting.  And  they  should,  moreover,  find 
some  of  his  critical  remarks  apt  and  incisive.  I,  for  one,  have 
no  doubt  that  he  is  right  in  rejecting  i)  Russell's  reduction  of 
the  number  concept  to  the  class  concept,  2)  Brouwer's  (and 
Becker's)  interpretation  of  the  role  of  time  in  mathematics, 
and  3)  Hilbert's  philosophical  interpretation  of  his  formaliza- 
tion of  mathematics,  according  to  which  the  visible  marks  as 
such  would  be  the  object  of  mathematics.15  Each  of  these  points 

18  The  present  writer  came  to  similar  conclusions,  in  a  book,  Das  Unendliche  in 


200  FELIX  KAUFMANN 

is  of  major  philosophical  significance.  Russell's  way  of  relating 
the  class  concept  to  the  number  concept  is  closely  linked  with 
his  sensationalist  and  nominalist  view  concerning  universals. 
Brouwer's  emphasis  on  the  time  factor  in  mathematics  (and  his 
demand  for  actual  construction  in  mathematics)  raises  the  basic 
issue  of  the  meaning  of  possibility  (which  is  indeed  the  prob- 
lem of  universals  seen  from  another  angle).  And  Hilbert's 
interpretation  of  his  formalization  involves  the  same  problem. 
Cassirer  never  tires  of  stressing  that  we  have  to  interpret 
"reality"  and  "experience"  in  terms  of  "possibility",  though 
there  is  no  "realm  of  possibilities"  beyond  experience.  He 
analyzes  mathematical  systems,  for  instance  those  of  different 
types  of  geometry,  in  order  to  make  it  clear  that  they  do  not 
contain  any  assertions  about  "real"  things  or  facts,  but  deal  with 
pure  possibilities.  These  possibilities  cannot  be  derived  from 
sense  perception.  "Experience  as  such  does  not  contain  in  itself 
a  principle  for  the  production  of  such  possibilities,  its  role  is 
confined  to  a  selection  among  them  in  the  application  to  given 
concrete  cases.  Its  real  accomplishment  consists  in  determina- 
tion rather  than  in  constitution."16  "One  could  say,  using  a 
metaphor  taken  from  the  language  of  chemistry,  that  sense 
experience  has  essentially  a  'catalytic'  function  in  the  develop- 
ment of  the  theories  of  the  natural  sciences."17  Sense  experience 
is  indispensable  for  the  process  of  forming  exact  concepts,  but  it 
is  no  longer  contained  as  an  independent  ingredient  in  the 
product  emerging  from  this  process,  in  the  scientific  concept. 
And  the  process  of  establishing  scientific  concepts,  which  is  a 
process  of  objectification,  has  its  own  immanent  principle  of 
development.  Each  subsequent  (higher)  stage  of  development 
terminates  the  earlier  stage,  but  it  assimilates  rather  than  ex- 
terminates that  earlier  stage.18  A  striking  example  is  the  prog- 
ress from  Newton's  system  to  Einstein's  Special  Theory  and 
General  Theory  of  Relativity. 

der  Mathematik  und  seine  Ausschaltung,  which  appeared  shortly  after  the  publica- 
tion of  Cassirer's  work. 

*  Philosofhie  der  symbolischen  Formen,  Vol.  Ill,  487. 

"Ibid.,  485. 

18  Hegel  expresses  this  view  by  using  the  word  "aufgehoben,"  which  may  mean 
cancelled  (abrogated)  or  "preserved." 


THEORY  OF  SCIENTIFIC  KNOWLEDGE          201 
VII 

Each  stage  of  obj  edification  is  represented  by  a  specific  sys- 
tem of  linguistic  symbols.  But  this  fact  must  not  be  interpreted 
as  a  creation  of  concepts  (meanings)  by  words,  as  radical  nom- 
inalists would  have  it.  The  meaning  is  the  nuclear  point,  the 
true  wpd-rcpov  <pucret.  However  we  should  not  regard  the  word 
as  a  mere  appendix  to  the  concept,  it  is  rather  one  of  the  most 
important  means  for  the  actualization  of  the  concept,  for  its 
separation  from  the  "immediately  given."  Hence  linguistic 
signs  are  indispensable  in  the  process  of  objectification,'and 
it  is  proper  to  approach  the  theory  of  knowledge  from  the  angle 
of  an  analysis  of  scientific  language.  But  in  doing  this  we  should 
bear  in  mind  that  the  theory  of  knowledge  is  not  the  whole  of 
philosophy,  and  that  the  activity  of  the  scientist  is  not  the 
only  nor  the  first  attempt  of  man  to  transform  a  chaos 
of  immediate  experiences  into  a  cosmos.  The  symbolism  of  scien- 
tific language  is  therefore  not  the  only  symbolism  a  study  of 
which  is  required  for  an  understanding  of  the  nature  of  man, 
who  should  be  defined  as  an  animal  symboUcum  rather  than  as 
an  animal  rationale™ 

It  is  the  task  of  systematic  philosophy  ...  to  grasp  the  whole  system  of 
symbolic  forms,  the  application  of  which  produces  for  us  the  concept  of 
an  ordered  reality,  and  by  virtue  of  which  subject  and  object,  ego  and 
world  are  separated  and  opposed  to  each  other  in  definite  form,  and  it 
must  refer  each  individual  in  this  totality  to  its  fixed  place.  If  we  assume 
this  problem  solved,  then  the  rights  would  be  assured,  and  the  limits 
fixed,  of  each  of  the  particular  forms  of  the  concept  and  of  knowledge 
as  well  as  of  the  general  forms  of  the  theoretical,  ethical,  aesthetic  and 
religious  understanding  of  the  world.  Each  particular  form  would  be 
"relativized"  with  regard  to  the  others,  but  since  this  "relativization" 
is  throughout  reciprocal  and  since  no  single  form  but  only  the  systematic 
totality  can  serve  as  the  expression  of  "truth"  and  "reality,"  the  limit 
that  results  appears  as  a  thoroughly  immanent  limit,  as  one  that  is  re- 
moved as  soon  as  we  again  relate  the  individual  to  the  system  of  the 
whole.20 

The  three  volumes  of  Cassirer's  Philosophic  der  symbolischen 

19  An  Essay  on  Man  (1944),  26. 

w Einstein's  Theory  of  Relativity,  (Swabey  translation),  447. 


202  FELIX  KAUFMANN 

Formen  (summarized  in  his  Essay  on  Man)  represent  a  re- 
markable contribution  towards  this  goal.  The  chief  critical 
outcome  of  this  approach  is  a  refutation  of  sensationalism  as 
well  as  of  dogmatic  realism.  Cassirer  realized  that  such  a  refuta- 
tion, in  order  to  be  fully  convincing,  must  start  at  the  level  of 
sense-perception. 

We  shall  conclude  our  brief  outline  of  Cassirer's  epistemology 
by  referring  to  his  important  study  "The  Concept  of  Group  and 
the  Theory  of  Perception,"21  which  suggests  a  mathematical 
interpretation  of  some  of  the  results  of  Gestalt  psychology,  and 
contains  a  devastating  criticism  of  the  traditional  sensationalist 
theory  of  perception,  according  to  which  perception  is  merely 
a  bundle  of  sense-impressions. 

This  doctrine,  Cassirer  points  out,  has  been  definitely  shat- 
tered by  physiological  and  psychological  research  initiated  by 
Helmholtz's  and  Hering's  investigations.  There  is  first  of  all 
the  established  fact  of  perceptual  constancy  involving  both 
color  constancy  and  constancy  of  spatial  shape  and  size.  A  sheet 
of  paper  which  appears  white  in  ordinary  daylight  is  recognized 
as  white  in  very  dim  light  as  well  ;  a  piece  of  velvet  which  looks 
black  to  us  under  a  cloudy  sky  looks  also  black  to  us  in  full 
sunshine}  a  piece  of  paper  which  looks  blue  to  us  in  daylight 
looks  blue  also  in  the  reddish-yellow  light  of  a  gasflame.  Con- 
sidering that  every  change  of  illumination  is  accompanied  by 
a  modification  in  the  stimulation  of  the  retina,  we  realize  that 
these  facts  cannot  be  squared  with  the  sensationalist's  theory  of 
perception,  which  claims  that  the  stimuli  are  simply  "copied" 
in  perception.  We  have  to  admit,  on  the  basis  of  this  evidence, 
that  the  stimuli  are  transformed  in  a  certain  direction. 

Experiments  concerning  perceptions  of  shape  and  size  lead 
to  similar  conclusions. 

When  an  object  is  moved  away  from  our  eyes,  the  images  on  the  retinae 
become  smaller  and  smaller.  Nonetheless,  within  certain  distances,  the 
perceptual  size  of  the  object  is  constant.  Variations  of  shape,  which  result 
from  the  fact  that  a  figure  is  turned  out  of  the  frontal-parallel  position, 

21  This  article  appeared  first  in  French  in  the  Journal  de  Psychologle  (1938), 
368-414.  It  was  recently  translated  into  English  by  Dr.  A.  Gurwitch  and 
published  in  Philosophy  and  Phenomenological  Research,  Vol.  V  (1944-45),  1-35. 


THEORY  OF  SCIENTIFIC  KNOWLEDGE         203 

are  also  "counterbalanced"  by  the  eye  to  a  high  degree,  so  that  we 
perceive  the  figure  in  its  "true"  shape.  What  is  meant  by  this  "truth" — 
a  kind  of  truth  which  seems  to  contradict  the  objective  facts,  the  real 
conditions  of  physical  stimulation?  In  raising  this  question,  psychological 
inquiry  comes  close  to  the  fundamental  epistemological  problems  of  the 
theory  of  perception,  even  though  it  may  try  to  confine  itself  strictly  to 
empirical  observation.22 

The  theory  of  knowledge  has  to  take  account  of  the  fact  that 
"we  do  not  merely  €re-ac?  to  the  stimulus,  but  in  a  certain 
sense  act  'against'  it,"  and  thereby  accomplish  a  "transforma- 
tion." This  fact  gives  rise  to  the  question  whether  the  group 
concept,  the  nuclear  concept  in  the  mathematical  theory  of 
transformations,  can  offer  a  clue  for  an  interpretation  of  the 
phenomena  of  perception. 

Group  theory,  which  has  developed  in  the  last  hundred  years 
into  one  of  the  most  important  mathematical  disciplines,  has 
also  substantially  contributed  to  a  deeper  understanding  of  the 
nature  of  mathematics,  and  particularly  of  geometry.  A  group 
(as  defined  by  Lie  and  Klein)  is  a  system  of  unique  operations 
A,  B,  C, .  . .  so  that  from  the  combination  of  any  two  operations 
A  and  B  there  results  an  operation  C  which  also  belongs  to  the 
totality:  A  •  B  =  C.  The  system  must  contain  the  Identity 
Element  which,  when  combined  with  any  other  element,  leaves 
this  other  element  unchanged.  Furthermore,  there  must  be  an 
inverse  operation  S"1  established  for  any  given  operation  S, 
such  that  S"1  cancels  out  (reverses)  Sj  and  finally,  the  associa- 
tive law  A  (BC)  =  (AB)  C  must  hold.  Now  it  has  been  defi- 
nitely established  in  F.  Klein's  famous  "Erlanger  Program  of 
1872"  that  the  geometrical  properties  of  any  figures  are  com- 
pletely describable  in  terms  of  group  theory.  Our  familiar 
metrical  Euclidean  geometry  is  a  member  of  a  family  of  geom- 
etries, each  of  which  investigates  the  invariant  properties 
of  a  particular  group.  The  groups  may  be  classified  in  an  order 
of  increasing  generality.  We  arrive  from  metrical  geometry 
successively  at  affinitive  geometry,  projective  geometry,  and 
topology  (analysis  situs}  by  considering  movements  with  re- 


204  FELIX  KAUFMANN 

spect  to  ever  wider  "principal  groups  of  transformations."  With 
every  extension  of  the  "principal  group"  some  distinctions 
which  could  be  made  in  a  geometry  corresponding  to  the  nar- 
rower principal  group  disappear.  Thus  the  distinction  between 
circles  and  ellipses  disappears  in  affinitive  geometry}  all  kinds 
of  conic  sections  (circles,  ellipses,  hyperbolae,  parabolae)  be- 
come indistinguishable  in  projective  geometry,  and  as  we  come 
to  topology  we  can  no  longer  differentiate  between  any  figures 
that  may  be  derived  from  each  other  by  continuous  reversibly 
unique  distortions. 

Helmholtz  was  the  first  to  attempt  an  application  of  group 
theory  to  an  investigation  of  the  phenomena  of  perception. 
But  this  approach  could  not  stand  up  under  experimental  tests. 
Since  that  time  the  psychology  of  perception  has  made  great 
strides,  particularly  through  the  work  of  the  Gestalt  psycholo- 
gists (Wertheimer,  Kohler,  Koffka,  Katz,  and  many  others) 
who  followed  a  trend  of  thought  suggested  by  Ehrenfels. 
Gestalt  psychologists  have  performed  systematic  studies  of  in- 
variances  of  perceptual  experiences  with  respect  to  certain  kinds 
of  variations  in  the  stimuli.  It  is  characteristic  of  phenomenal 
forms  ($haenomenale  Gestalten)  that  their  specific  properties 
remain  unchanged  when  the  absolute  data  upon  which  they 
rest  undergo  certain  modifications.  Thus  a  melody  is  not  sub- 
stantially altered  when  all  of  its  notes  are  subjected  to  the 
same  relative  displacement  j  an  optical  spatial  figure  remains 
approximately  the  same  when  it  is  presented  in  a  different  place 
or  on  a  different  scale,  but  in  the  same  proportions.23 

These  phenomena,  Cassirer  submits,  are  closely  related  to 
group  theory. 

What  we  find  in  both  cases  are  invariances  with  respect  to  variations 
undergone  by  the  primitive  elements  out  of  which  a  form  is  constructed. 
The  peculiar  kind  of  "identity"  that  is  attributed  to  apparently  altogether 
heterogeneous  figures  in  virtue  of  their  being  transformable  into  one 
another  by  means  of  certain  operations  defining  a  group,  is  thus  seen 
to  exist  also  in  the  domain  of  perception.  This  identity  permits  us  not  only 
to  single  out  elements,  but  also  to  grasp  "structures"  in  perception.  To 

28  W.  Kohler,  Die  fhysischen  Gestalten  in  Ruhe  ttnd  im  stationary  Zustand, 
(1920),  37,  quoted  by  Cassirer  in  Ibid.,  25. 


THEORY  OF  SCIENTIFIC  KNOWLEDGE         205 

the  mathematical  concept  of  "transformability"  there  corresponds,  in  the 
domain  of  perception,  the  concept  of  "transposability."24 

However,  we  must  not  interpret  this  correspondence  as  an 
identity.  There  is  no  complete  invariance  of  phenomena  of 
perception  with  respect  to  such  variations  as  mentioned  above. 
Gestalt  psychologists  have  fully  recognized  that  we  should 
speak  of  more  or  less  effective  tendencies  toward  invariance,  the 
degree  of  effectiveness  depending  on  various  factors  of  which 
we  have  to  take  account  in  describing  a  perceptual  field.  Wert- 
heimer  has,  accordingly,  introduced  the  concept  of  "Gestalt 
dispositions,"  by  which  he  understands  tendencies  toward  "laws 
of  organization"  of  the  perceptual  material. 

It  could  not  escape  Cassirer's  attention  that  these  results  of 
modern  psychology  square  well  with  Plato's  conception  of  the 
relation  between  perception  and  thought.  Moreover,  he  em- 
phasized that  they  vindicate  some  basic  ideas  of  Kant's  concern- 
ing the  function  of  imagination  which  Kant  had  laid  down  in 
the  Critique  of  Pure  Reason  (chapter  on  Schematism)  and  in 
the  Critique  of  Judgment.  But  the  most  obvious  philosophical 
conclusions  to  be  drawn  from  these  psychological  results  is 
the  untenability  of  the  sensationalist's  interpretation  of  percep- 
tion as  a  process  of  mere  reproduction.  Considering  that  this 
interpretation  is  at  the  very  heart  of  the  sensationalist  doctrine, 
it  is  difficult  to  understand  how  this  doctrine  should  be  able 
to  continue  to  have  any  influence  after  its  lifeline  has  been  cut. 

VIII 

Brief  and  fragmentary  as  our  presentation  of  Cassirer's  con- 
tributions to  the  theory  of  knowledge  had  to  be,  it  has,  I  hope, 
brought  into  sharp  focus  the  guiding  principles  of  his  analysis 
of  cognition.  This  should  enable  us  to  determine  in  a  broad  way 
the  relation  of  his  teachings  to  other  contemporary  philosophi- 
cal doctrines. 

Although  he  is  inclined  to  stress  points  of  agreement  rather 
than  points  of  disagreement,  and  generously  acknowledges 
merits  even  where  he  disapproves,  Cassirer  makes  it  unmistak- 
ably clear  that  he  is  strongly  opposed  to  uncritical  realism  and 


25. 


206  FELIX  KAUFMANN 

sensationalism.  Moreover,  he  rejects  all  varieties  of  transem- 
pirical  metaphysics  j  philosophy  is,  to  him,  as  it  was  to  Kant, 
analysis  of  experience.  He  combats  "atomism"  wherever  he 
finds  it  and  endorses  a  coherence  theory  of  truth  which  bears 
some  resemblance  to  HegePs  pertinent  views ;  but  he  would 
not  accept  the  chief  tenets  of  the  doctrines  of  Bradley  and 
other  neo-Hegelians,  who  claim  that  the  real  subject  of  a 
judgment  is  the  Absolute,  and  that  our  particular  judgments 
are  inconsistent. 

Can  it  then  be  said  that  Cassirer  is  a  "positivist"  who  dis- 
poses of  metaphysical  sentences  as  meaningless  pseudo-state- 
ments? We  should  hardly  expect  a  historian  of  philosophy,  who 
has  taken  so  much  pains  in  interpreting  the  teachings  of  the 
great  "metaphysicians"  of  the  past,  to  endorse  this  view  without 
qualifications.  Although  he  concedes  that  metaphysical  sentences 
are  not  meaningful  at  face  value,  he  insists  that  they  can  be 
transformed  into  meaningful  sentences  by  interpreting  onto- 
logical  principles  as  regulative  principles  of  cognition.  "What 
metaphysics  ascribes  as  a  'property  to  things  in  themselves  now 
proves  to  be  a  necessary  element  in  the  process  of  obj  edifica- 
tion."25 This  way  of  dealing  with  metaphysical  doctrines  had 
been  established  in  Kant's  "Transcendental  Dialectics,"  and  the 
philosophers  of  the  Marburg  school  have  consistently  followed 
this  clue.  It  would  be  a  good  thing  for  the  more  uncompromis- 
ing anti-metaphysicians  to  give  this  Kantian  and  neo-Kantian 
approach  a  second  thought.  Desirable  as  it  is  to  get  rid  of 
pseudo-problems,  we  should,  in  disposing  of  them,  be  careful 
lest  we  pour  out  the  baby  with  the  bath. 

Cassirer  took  issue  with  this  cavalier  way  of  treating  meta- 
physical doctrines  in  one  of  his  later  works.26  There  he  quotes 
with  approval  a  statement  made  half  a  century  ago  by  the 
great  physicist  Heinrich  Hertz,  which  was  aimed  at  the  anti- 
metaphysicians  among  his  fellow-scientists.  "No  consideration 
which  makes  any  impression  on  our  mind  can  be  disposed  of  by 
labeling  it  as  'metaphysical  j'  every  thinking  mind  has  needs 

88  Substance  and  Function.  303^ 

26  Axel  Hagerstrom:  Eine  Studie  zur  schwedischen  Philosofhie  der  Gegenwart 


THEORY  OF  SCIENTIFIC  KNOWLEDGE         207 

which  the  natural  scientist  is  wont  to  call  'metaphysical'." 

Heinrich  Hertz  was  anything  but  a  metaphysician  j  his  great 
work,  Die  Prinzfyien  der  Mechanik,  from  which  the  sentence 
quoted  above  is  taken,  has  indeed  more  definitely  disposed  of 
the  "metaphysical"  concept  of  force  than  any  preceding  treatise 
on  physics.  But  he  realized  that  the  attempts  of  scientists  to- 
wards making  their  fundamental  notions  clear  frequently  stop 
short  of  the  level  of  clarity  that  can  be  reached  if  clarification 
of  meaning  is  made  the  primary  objective  of  inquiry.  That's 
where  the  philosopher  steps  in,  but  in  doing  this  he  has  to  be 
constantly  on  his  guard  against  hasty  interpretations  of  scien- 
tific findings  which  seem  to  lend  support  to  his  specific  doctrine. 
It  is  shown  by  the  record  that  scientists  who  become  philoso- 
phers in  their  leisure  hours  are  hardly  less  exposed  to  this 
danger  than  professional  philosophers,  though  in  a  slightly 
different  form.  Whereas  their  accounts  of  the  work  accomp- 
lished in  their  own  field  are  usually  accurate,  they  are  prone 
to  exaggerate  the  range  of  applicability  of  their  methods  to 
other  domains  of  inquiry  and,  consequently,  to  underrate  the 
significance  of  other  methods.  But  we  should  gratefully  ac- 
knowledge the  fact  that  a  number  of  prominent  scientists — like 
Helmholtz,  Mach,  and  Poincare — who  discussed  the  "founda- 
tions" of  their  sciences,  have  offered  most  valuable  aid  to  phi- 
losophers in  their  attempts  to  grasp  thoroughly  the  methods  of 
science.  Ernst  Cassirer  used  this  help  to  the  best  advantage. 

There  is  one  more  point  to  be  made  in  this  context.  The  fact 
that  the  process  of  clarification  is  carried  farther  by  philosophers 
than  by  scientists,  qua  scientists,  may  be  stressed  by  saying  that 
philosophical  analysis  penetrates  deeper  than  scientific  analysis. 
Understood  in  this  sense,  the  statement  is  legitimate.  But  it 
should  not  be  taken  to  imply  that  the  "realm"  of  scientific 
knowledge  is  strictly  separated  from  the  "deeper  realm"  of 
philosophical  knowledge,  and  that  the  scientist  qua  scientist  and 
the  philosopher  qua  philosopher  have  to  refrain  from  crossing 
the  borderlines.  This  view,  which  may  be  historically  linked  to 
the  medieval  doctrine  of  the  twofold  truth,  has  been  defended 
— more  or  less  explicitly — by  prominent  contemporary  philoso- 
phers and  scientists,  such  as  Whitehead,  Eddington,  and  Jeans, 


208  FELIX  KAUFMANN 

but  it  is  certainly  not  endorsed  by  Cassirer.  He  holds  that  the 
scientist  can — in  principle — never  go  too  far  in  the  process  of 
clarification  of  his  terms  and  methods,  and  that  the  philosophers 
can  never  come  too  close  to  the  scientist's  work. 

Cassirer's  "scientific  attitude"  and  his  familiarity  with  mod- 
ern mathematics  and  physics  represents  no  minor  link  between 
his  teaching  and  the  doctrine  of  logical  positivism,  which  has 
so  emphatically  stressed  this  attitude  and  so  thoroughly  ana- 
lyzed the  principles  of  mathematics  and  natural  science.27  This 
affinity  became  even  greater  as  logical  positivism  gradually 
freed  itself  from  vestiges  of  sensationalism,  which  were  largely 
due  to  the  influence  of  Mach  and  Russell.  But  there  are  im- 
portant doctrinal  differences  which  should  not  be  overlooked. 
The  logical  positivists  are  radical  anti-metaphysicians  in  the 
sense  described  above.  They  regard  ontological  statements  as 
altogether  meaningless  and  seek  to  eliminate  them  by  a  logical 
analysis  of  language}  whereas  Cassirer  transforms  them  into 
regulative  principles  of  inquiry.  Another  point  of  difference  is 
Cassirer's  rejection  of  "physicalism,"  (radical  behaviorism), 
which  has  for  some  time  prevailed  among  logical  positivists. 
But  it  should  be  noted  that  the  leading  philosopher  of  the 
group,  Rudolf  Carnap,  has,  in  the  last  decade,  modified  his 
physicalistn  to  an  extent  which  comes  close  to  its  complete 
abandonment.28 

There  is,  moreover,  the  issue  of  the  universals  which  divides 
the  two  doctrines.  Cassirer  is  clearly  opposed  to  nominalism, 
whereas  the  logical  positivists  are  among  the  staunchest  nomi- 
nalists in  contemporary  philosophy.  Cassirer's  "conceptualistic" 
view  is  well  expressed  in  the  following  sentence:29 

That  the  general  birch-tree  "exists"  can  only  mean  that  what  is  to  be 

27Philipp  Frank,  one  of  the  leading  members  of  this  group,  is  basically  in 
agreement  with  Cassirer's  interpretation  of  quantum  physics  and  considers  his 
philosophical  work  as  a  whole  as  a  (highly  welcome)  symptom  of  a  "disintegrating 
process  inside  of  school  philosophy."  See  his  discussion  of  Cassirer's  Determinismus 
und  Indeterminismtts  in  der  modernen  Physik  in  his  volume,  Between  Physics  and 
Philosophy  (Cambridge,  194.1),  191-210. 

88 1  have  discussed  this  change  in  Carnap's  view  in  Ch.  XI  of  my  Methodology 
of  the  Social  Sciences,  New  York,  (i  944) . 

*  Axel  Hagerstrb'm,  5 1 . 


THEORY  OF  SCIENTIFIC  KNOWLEDGE         209 

stated  by  it  is  not  a  mere  name,  not  simply  a  flatus  vocis;  the  statement 
is  meant  to  refer  to  relations  of  the  real.  We  express  by  the  notion 
"general  birch-tree"  merely  the  fact  that  there  are  judgments  which  do 
not  refer  to  this  or  that — here  and  now  given — birch-tree,  but  claim  to 
apply  to  "all"  birch-trees.  I  can  uphold  this  logical  participation,  this 
[X€Te£t£  of  the  particular  in  the  general,  without  transforming  it  into  an 
ontological  statement  in  which  two  fundamental  forms  of  reality  are 
posited. 

In  the  paper  mentioned  above,  Philipp  Frank  quotes  Jacques 
Maritain  as  saying  "that  the  aim  of  the  Vienna  circle  and  of  the 
whole  movement  of  logical  empiricism  was  to  'disontologize 
science'."30  We  might  say  with  equal  right  that  one  of  the  aims 
of  Cassirer's  theory  of  knowledge  is  to  disontologize  philosophy 
without  destroying  it. 

IX 

The  relation  of  Cassirer's  philosophy  to  pragmatism  in  gen- 
eral, and  to  Dewey's  instrumentalism  in  particular,  might,  at 
first  glance,  seem  to  be  more  remote  than  its  relation  to  logical 
positivism,  and  to  imply  a  larger  number  of  conflicting  tenets. 
But  this  cannot  be  unreservedly  maintained.  The  neo-Kantian- 
ism  of  the  Marburg  school  is,  indeed,  in  some  important  re- 
spects closer  to  pragmatism  than  to  logical  positivism.  We 
shall  confine  ourselves  to  a  brief  comparison  between  Cassirer's 
and  Dewey's  theories  of  knowledge  and  make  the  point  that 
some  striking  differences  between  their  doctrines  are  less  funda- 
mental than  one  might  suppose  them  to  be.  Dewey's  philosophy, 
it  might  be  suggested,  is  through  and  through  naturalistic; 
Cassirer's  philosophy,  on  the  other  hand,  is  through  and  through 
idealistic.  We  are  thus  confronted  with  two  diametrically  op- 
posed philosophical  approaches. 

But  such  an  interpretation  is  all  too  facile,  and  cannot  bear 
closer  examination.  We  should  be  aided  in  a  more  thorough 
appraisal  of  the  relation  between  the  two  philosophies  by  con- 
sidering their  historical  settings.  Dewey,  as  well  as  Cassirer,  was 
profoundly  influenced  (though  in  a  different  way)  by  Kantian 
and  Hegelian  teachings}  and  both  were  also  under  the  impact 

90  Between  Physics  and  Philosophy,  195. 


210  FELIX  KAUFMANN 

of  the  naturalist-empiricist  reaction  to  these  teachings.  Each 
of  the  two  men  was  too  penetrating  a  thinker  to  ignore  the 
strong  points  in  either  of  the  conflicting  philosophical  trends. 
It  is,  of  course,  undeniable  that  Dewey  broke  determinedly 
away  from  the  Hegelian  tradition  and  rejected  in  unambiguous 
terms  Kant's  apriorism  and  dualism  (as  he  saw  them)  j  whereas 
Cassirer  considers  himself  as  a  faithful,  though  not  orthodox, 
follower  of  Kant,  and  to  some  extent,  even  of  Hegel.  Quite 
a  number  of  doctrinal  differences,  which  should  by  no  means 
be  minimized,  can  be  historically  interpreted  in  terms  of  this 
split.  But  we  have  to  ask  whether  the  split  goes  to  the  roots, 
whether  it  leads  to  opposite  theoretical  or  practical  conclusions. 

We  might  look  for  a  clue  to  an  answer  to  this  question  by 
considering  the  manner  in  which  our  two  philosophers  deal 
with  the  notions  of  "development"  and  "progress."  When  Cas- 
sirer uses  these  terms,  we  are  reminded  of  Aristotle's  entelechy 
and  self-perfection,  of  Leibniz'  monads,  and  of  Hegel's  dia- 
lectical movement  of  the  objective  mind.  When  Dewey  uses 
these  terms,  one  is  under  the  spell  of  Darwin's  Origin  of 
Species.  We  know  that  the  effect  of  this  shift  in  meaning  from 
spiritual  development  to  biological  evolution  can  be  tremen- 
dous. It  is  apt  to  lend  support  to  a  transvaluation  of  traditional 
values  and  to  the  irrationalism  of  a  Nietzsche,  Pareto,  Sorel. 
But  we  know  as  well  that  Dewey  is  most  vigorously  opposed  to 
these  irrationalist  tendencies,  and  shall  therefore  not  conclude 
that  an  irreconcilable  conflict  between  the  two  doctrines  is 
proved  by  a  pragmatic  test.  Since  we  cannot  thoroughly  under- 
stand diversities  unless  we  are  able  to  grasp  the  underlying 
identities,  we  shall  start  by  referring  to  the  common  features 
of  the  two  doctrines. 

First  of  all,  they  are  close  to  each  other  in  the  professed  aim 
of  their  theories  of  knowledge,  which  is  to  clarify  the  basic 
principles  of  scientific  inquiry.  Consequently,  they  are  opposed 
to  any  interpretation  of  philosophy,  according  to  which  philoso- 
phy could  and  should  "legislate"  to  science.  Moreover,  they 
agree  that  one  should  rather  define  "(factual)  truth"  in  terms 
of  knowledge,  as  outcome  of  inquiry,  than  knowledge  in  terms 
of  "truth."  Both  philosophers  reject  the  correspondence  theories 


THEORY  OF  SCIENTIFIC  KNOWLEDGE         211 

of  truth  as  proposed  by  realists  and  by  sensationalists,  e.g., 
Bertrand  Russell.  They  endorse  a  coherence  theory  of  truth, 
where  "coherence"  is  not  understood  as  mere  consistency  of  the 
body  of  established  knowledge,  but  interpreted  in  terms  of  the 
principles  of  empirical  procedure.  Linked  with  this  point  is 
the  conception  of  inquiry  as  a  process  which  is  guided  by  a  set 
of  "postulates."  Kant's  regulative  principles  as  interpreted  by 
the  Marburg  school,  are  not  very  different  in  function  from 
Peirce's  and  Dewey's  leading  principles — though  the  latter  are 
more  flexible — and  the  resemblance  between  Cassirer's  and 
Dewey's  reinterpretations  of  traditional  epistemological  contro- 
versies in  terms  of  such  methodological  principles  is  sometimes 
striking. 

These  considerations  should  suffice  for  a  rejection  of  the 
view  that  Cassirer's  decidedly  idealistic  approach  is  diametric- 
ally opposed  to  Dewey's  decidedly  naturalistic  approach.  As 
a  matter  of  fact,  we  need  not  go  very  far  in  the  study  of  Dewey's 
work  to  discover  that  his  naturalism  is  heavens  apart  from  those 
crude  types  of  naturalism  which  would  "reduce"  human  ac- 
tivity to  behavior  of  inanimate  bodies.  I  do  not  see  why 
Cassirer  should  have  had  to  take  issue  with  a  naturalism  which 
is  characterized  as  follows: 

The  term  "naturalistic"  has  many  meanings.  As  it  is  here  employed 
it  means,  on  one  side,  that  there  is  no  breach  of  continuity  between 
operations  of  inquiry  and  biological  operations  and  physical  operations. 
"Continuity,"  on  the  other  side,  means  that  rational  operations  grow 
out  of  organic  activities,  without  being  identical  with  that  from  which 
they  emerge.81 

Nor  was  he  bound  to  have  any  substantial  objections  to  Dewey's 
outline  of  the  "cultural  matrix  of  inquiry"  in  the  third  chapter 
of  the  Logic  (and  in  earlier  works),  which  might  well  have  led 
to  the  definition  of  man  as  a  symbol-making  animal,  as  sug- 
gested by  Cassirer. 

Yet  there  are  indeed  incisive  differences  between  the  two 
doctrines  which  have  direct  bearing  upon  methodological  is- 
sues. We  shall  briefly  examine  two  of  them.  The  first  relates 

"Dewey,  Logic:  The  Theory  of  Inquiry^  i8f. 


212  FELIX  KAUFMANN 

to  the  problem  of  the  nature  of  meanings.  While  Dewey  is  not 
an  extreme  nominalist,  he  is  much  closer  to  nominalism  than 
Cassirer,  even  though  Cassirer  is  as  little  a  conceptual  realist 
as  was  Kant.32  Dewey  treats  comprehension  of  meaning  and 
sensation  on  an  almost  equal  footing.  Immediate  experience 
of  both  types  is  taken  to  be  preliminary}  it  indicates  a  problem, 
but  it  cannot  by  itself  establish  knowledge.  Only  in  its  proper 
setting  within  the  context  of  empirical  inquiry  is  such  experi- 
ence conducive  to  knowledge.  Cassirer  would  endorse  this  view 
as  far  as  sensation  is  concerned.  This  tenet  is  indeed  as  essential 
in  his  philosophy  as  it  is  in  Dewey's.  But  he  would  not  accept 
the  view  that  comprehension  of  meaning  is  in  a  similar  sense 
controlled  by  empirical  inquiry  as  is  sensation.  He  would, 
moreover,  insist  upon  a  sharp  differentiation  between  verifies  de 
raison  and  verites  de  fait,  and,  accordingly,  upon  the  autonomy 
of  pure  logic  and  pure  mathematics. 

Although  I  am  in  agreement  with  Cassirer  on  this  issue,  I 
think  that  in  another  respect  Dewey's  theory  of  inquiry  is  su- 
perior to  Cassirer'sj  namely,  in  its  analysis  of  scientific  testing. 
One  might  be  tempted  to  emphasize  this  point  by  declaring 
that  Cassirer's  interpretation  of  science  is  static,  whereas  Dew- 
ey's approach  is  dynamic.  These  terms  are  indeed  suggestive  of 
an  important  difference  between  the  two  approaches,  but  they 
should  not  mislead  us  into  conceiving  of  Cassirer  as  an  orthodox 
disciple  of  Parmenides.  He  realizes  as  well  as  any  pragmatist 
that  scientific  inquiry  is  a  potentially  endless  self-correcting 
process 5  but  (like  the  classical  economist)  he  focuses  his  atten- 
tion upon  states  of  equilibrium,  where  the  material  of  avail- 
able perceptual  experience  is  "absorbed"  by  theoretical  systems. 
Dewey,  on  the  other  hand,  concentrates  upon  the  processes  that 
emerge  from  (particular)  states  of  disequilibrium — indeter- 
minate situations — and  lead  to  the  attainment  of  new  equilib- 
ria (determinate  situations).  And  he  deals  more  thoroughly 
with  the  conditions  of  "warranted  assertability,"  with  the  criteria 
for  the  distinction  between  warranted  and  unwarranted  asser- 
tions. 

The  analysis  of  warranted  assertability  is  intimately  con- 

18  See  $ufra,  i89f,  208  f. 


THEORY  OF  SCIENTIFIC  KNOWLEDGE          213 

nected  with  the  problem  of  determining  the  relation  between 
propositional  meaning  and  the  criteria  of  verification  of  propo- 
sitions (the  so-called  truth-conditions).  Cassirer's  discussion, 
in  his  Erkenntnisproblem,  of  Kant's  criticism  of  the  ontological 
argument  gives  some  hints  as  to  where  he  stands  on  this  issue; 
but  I  do  not  think  that  it  suffices  for  a  full  understanding  of 
his  position.  This  problem  is  as  actual  in  contemporary  theory 
of  knowledge  as  was  the  problem  of  the  relation  between  essence 
and  existence  in  Greek  and  medieval  philosophy  j  and  I  would 
even  submit  that  it  is  a  "modern"  version  of  this  time-honored 
metaphysical  issue.  As  such  it  is  closely  linked  with  the  peren- 
nial problems  of  matter  and  form,  which  are  a  leitmotif 
throughout  Cassirer's  work. 

It  would  be  a  rewarding  task  to  compare  Cassirer's  general 
treatment  of  these  problems  with  their  treatment  in  HusserPs 
phenomenology.  But  in  making  such  an  attempt  I  should  have 
to  overstep  the  boundaries  of  space  allotted  to  me  and  the 
limits  of  my  assignment,  and  I  am  too  well  aware  of  Heraclitus' 
warning  to  venture  this.  I  shall  therefore  confine  myself  to  the 
remark  that  HusserPs  approach  to  the  problems  of  matter  and 
form33  is  rather  different  from  Cassirer's  approach,  which  is 
more  in  line  with  the  classical  interpretation  of  matter  as  both 
a  challenge  and  an  obstacle  to  the  'forming'  activity  of  the 
mind. 

In  the  General  Introduction  to  The  Library  of  Living  Phi- 
losophers y  the  editor  resumes  F.  C.  S.  Schiller's  question:  "Must 
philosophers  disagree?"  When  one  studies  Ernst  Cassirer's 
work,  which  sheds  a  flood  of  light  on  different  philosophical 
aspects  with  a  view  towards  synthesizing  them,  one  feels  that 
disagreement  among  philosophers  need  not  persist  unabated. 

FELIX  KAUFMANN 

GRADUATE  FACULTY 

NEW  SCHOOL  FOR  SOCIAL  RESEARCH 

88  In  the  sth  and  6th  of  his  Logische  Untersuchungen,  in  the  Ideen,  in  Formale 
und  transcendental*  Logik,  and  in  Erfahrung  und  Urteil. 


5 
Dmitry  Gawronsky 

CASSIRER'S  CONTRIBUTION  TO  THE 
EPISTEMOLOGY  OF  PHYSICS 


CASSIRER'S  CONTRIBUTION  TO  THE 
EPISTEMOLOGY  OF  PHYSICS 

MO  OTHER  epistemological  problem  has  caused  philoso- 
phers and  scientists  as  great  a  headache  as  the  application 
of  mathematics  to  the  cognition  of  real  things.  Mathematics 
and  material  things  seem  to  belong  to  two  quite  different  worlds 
— mathematical  concepts,  relations,  and  laws  reveal  such  an 
absolute  precision  and  necessity,  two  qualities,  these  latter, 
which  do  not  exist  in  the  same  form  in  the  world  of  reality.  The 
geometrical  straight  line,  for  instance,  is  physically  a  quite  im- 
possible concept:  first,  because  this  line  consists  exclusively  of 
one  dimension  and,  not  having  any  thickness,  could  not  be 
represented  by  any  really  existing  thing;  and,  secondly,  it  is 
conceived  as  a  form  which  has  absolutely  no  curbs  or  bends, 
and  this,  again,  is  a  physical  impossibility.  One  could  argue 
that  the  concept  of  straight  line  is  given  us — even  if  not  in  a 
perfect,  then  at  least  in  an  approximative  form — by  real  things, 
for  instance  by  a  straight  slender  stick.  Yet,  this  argument  is 
hardly  sound;  first  of  all,  this  slender  stick  is  not  just  a  gift 
of  nature,  but  had  been  manufactured  by  man  who  was  guided 
in  this  job  by  his  idea  of  a  straight  line;  and,  secondly,  even  if 
by  some  miracle  such  a  rod  could  be  found  in  nature,  even  then 
it  could  be  transformed  into  an  exact  mathematical  concept  only 
through  an  infinite  process  of  attenuation  and  straightening, 
whereby  the  straight  line  itself,  as  the  limit  of  this  infinite  proc- 
ess, would  always  be  present  in  our  mind  as  a  directing  and 
controlling  prototype. 

The  more  obvious  it  becomes  that  mathematical  concepts 
and  real  things  belong  to  two  different  spheres,  the  more  diffi- 
cult grows  the  question:  how  is  it  possible  that  even  the  subtlest 
and  most  complicated  mathematical  relations  and  laws  find 

217 


218  DIMITRY  GAWRONSKY 

their  successful  application  to  the  world  of  reality?  Only  two 
directly  opposite  philosophical  tendencies — naive  empiricism 
and  absolute  idealism — avoid  with  ease  this  epistemological 
difficulty;  but  they  both  do  it  at  the  cost  of  even  greater  diffi- 
culties. Empiricism  locates  the  source  of  mathematical  notions 
and  conceptions  in  the  sphere  of  real  things,  without  being  able 
to  explain  satisfactorily  their  absolute  validity  and  necessity, 
the  infinite  character  of  their  methods  of  construction  and  cal- 
culation. And  absolute  idealism  does  exactly  the  opposite:  in 
its  mystical  belief  in  the  infinite  power  of  human  reason,  it 
regards  all  real  things  as  derived  in  all  their  qualities  and  func- 
tions from  this  reason;  it  disregards  the  simple  fact  that  reason 
may  be  largely  instrumental  in  the  understanding  of  the  uni- 
verse. At  the  same  time,  the  conception  that  reason  "creates" 
the  universe  is  overbearing  and  ridiculously  false. 

Plato's  idealism  reveals  its  close  connection  with  Orphism  in 
its  conception  of  the  Idea  as  a  prototype  of  which  real  things 
endeavor  to  partake;  and  it  discloses  the  same  exaggerated  be- 
lief in  the  power  of  the  human  mind  in  its  ethical  teaching  of 
virtue  as  the  knowledge  of  good.  Yet  the  revival  of  Platonism 
in  modern  times  struck  deep  roots  in  the  realm  of  exact  knowl- 
edge and  influenced  decisively  the  founders  of  exact  science: 
Copernicus,  Kepler,  and  Galileo.  The  problem  of  knowledge 
ceased  to  be  the  concern  of  pure  philosophy  only — the  great 
men  of  science  felt  keenly  the  desire  to  elucidate  this  problem 
and  to  understand  the  very  nature — the  principles,  the  methods, 
the  attainable  goals — of  the  creative  work  they  were  doing. 

Exact  science,  this  rewriting  of  nature  in  mathematical  letters, 
became  now  a  crucial  test  of  man's  successful  mental  conquest  of 
nature,  and  this  fact  induced  Ernst  Cassirer  to  devote  a  large 
part  of  his  research  to  this  field  of  human  knowledge:  "only 
in  exact  science — in  its  progress  which,  despite  all  vacillation, 
is  continuous — does  the  harmonious  concept  of  knowledge  ob- 
tain its  true  accomplishment  and  verification;  everywhere  else 
this  concept  still  remains  only  a  demand."1 

To  this  problem — the  contribution  of  exact  science  to  epis- 

1  Ernst  Cassirer,  Das  Erkenntnisproblem  in  der  Philosofhie  und  Wissenschaft 
der  neueren  Zeit.  Vol.  I.,  p.  1 1 . 


EPISTEMOLOGY  OF  PHYSICS  219 

temology — Cassirer  devoted  constant  and  assiduous  study 
throughout  his  entire  life.  He  first  approached  the  problem 
from  the  historical  point  of  view — he  showed  how  slowly  and 
painfully  the  scientific  notion  of  nature  detached  itself  from 
purely  mystical  and  metaphysical  conceptions.  Even  Coperni- 
cus, who  methodically  controlled  and  reversed  immediate  sen- 
sory impressions  by  mathematical  reasoning  and  proceeded  upon 
the  principle  "Mathemata  mathematicis  scribuntur?  introduced 
aesthetic  motives  into  his  demonstrations  and  regarded,  for  in- 
stance, our  sun  as  the  center  of  the  entire  universe,  since  no 
other  place  would  be  more  suitable  to  its  dignity  and  majestic 
brilliancy. 

It  was  Leonardo  da  Vinci  who  freed  exact  science  from  all 
arbitrary  elements  and  waged  a  systematic  battle  against  all 
attempts  to  introduce  spiritual  causes  into  the  explanation  of 
physical  phenomena.  (Only  mathematics,  every  concept  and 
law  of  which  is  permeated  by  the  spirit  of  absolute  necessity,  is 
able  to  provide  us  with  an  adequate  basis  upon  which  to  build 
our  knowledge  of  nature.)  Kepler  already  had  gone  so  far  as 
not  only  to  recognize  clearly  both  sense  impressions  and  intel- 
lectual concepts  as  fundamental  sources  of  our  knowledge  of 
nature,  but  also  to  emphasize  their  thorough  and  organic  in- 
terrelation. According  to  him,  perception  incites  and  controls 
our  reasoning  and  is  a  genuine  and  reliable  beginning  of  our 
knowledge;  but  all  this  only  because  it  contains — though  in  a 
hidden  and  obscure  form — elements  of  intellectual  concepts  and 
mathematical  relations. 

All  these  basic  tendencies  were  decisively  deepened  and  en- 
larged by  Galileo.  He,  too,  recognized  sense  impressions  as  a 
fundamental  source  of  our  knowledge;  yet  for  him  these  im- 
pressions did  not  remain  in  the  realm  of  individual  perceptions 
— rather  they  acquired  the  form  of  organically  unified  experi- 
ence, founded  upon  and  formed  by  mathematical  concepts  and 
laws  of  absolute  necessity.  Truth  is  what  is  organically  con- 
nected with  the  whole  of  experience,  what  belongs  to  this  whole 
as  a  consistent  part  of  it;  and  the  knowledge  of  any  single  fact 
is  only  possible  by  way  of  studying  its  relations  to  the  totality 
of  known  and  established  facts. 


220  DIMITRY  GAWRONSKY 

The  second  generation  of  great  scientists — Huyghens,  Boyle, 
and  Newton — showed  much  less  interest  in  general  episte- 
mological  problems  and  tried  primarily  to  purify  and  clarify 
their  experimental  methods.  They  tried  to  avoid  all  general 
concepts  and  theories  and  they  went  so  far  in  this  direction  that 
— as  Goethe  put  it — "they  expressed  the  clear  intention  to 
observe  natural  phenomena  as  well  as  their  own  experiments 
separately,  placing  them  side  by  side  and  without  making  any 
attempt  to  connect  them  somehow  artificially  with  one  another." 
Yet,  continued  Goethe,  they  put  a  firm  trust  in  mathematics  and 
stood  in  awe  before  the  usefulness  of  its  application  to  physics 
and  thus,  "while  they  tried  to  be  on  their  guard  with  ideality, 
they  admitted  and  kept  the  highest  ideality."  Those  great 
scientists — and  especially  the  greatest  of  them,  Newton — de- 
veloped their  mathematical  methods  to  an  amazing  degree, 
methods  which  enabled  them  meticulously  to  control  their 
experiments  and  to  deduce  from  them  exact  and  fundamental 
knowledge.  Newton's  purely  mathematical  and  seemingly  quite 
abstract  concepts  of  "absolute"  space  and  time,  of  force  and 
movement,  soon  became  the  very  foundation  of  all  physical 
science.  The  basic  epistemological  problem — the  application  of 
ideal  concepts  to  reality — attained,  through  Newton's  pro- 
cedure, such  a  degree  of  precision  that  it  soon  became  the  focal 
point  of  an  impassioned  and  prolonged  controversy  in  which 
Clarke,  Leibniz,  and  Euler  played  the  leading  part,  and  which 
so  decisively  influenced  the  young  Kant  that  not  only  did  New- 
ton's system  become  the  very  object  of  his  theoretical  philoso- 
phy, but  Kant  even  tried  to  introduce  Newton's  methods  into 
philosophy. 

In  the  first  two  volumes  of  his  Erkenntnisproblem  in  der 
Philosophie  und  Wissenschaft  der  neueren  Zeit  Cassirer  de- 
scribed and  analyzed,  step  by  step,  the  historical  development 
of  the  struggle  of  human  thought  with  this  basic  epistemologi- 
cal question}  the  same  question  lies  at  the  core  of  his  extended 
work,  Substanzbegrif  und  Funktionsbegriff.  In  this  book,  how- 
ever, Cassirer's  approach  to  the  problem  is  different — here  he 
seeks  the  solution  by  a  subtle  analysis  and  systematic  recon- 
struction of  the  whole  complex  of  epistemological  principles 


EPISTEMOLOGY  OF  PHYSICS  221 

and  methods.  His  first  step  is  to  show  that  a  logical  concept  is 
never  a  simple  summing  up  of  qualities  common  to  a  certain 
group  of  similar  things}  before  this  summing  up  can  take  place 
the  human  mind  must  have  the  ability  to  establish  in  its  con- 
sciousness such  a  grouping  of  similar  things.  This  is  done  by  a 
special  mental  process  of  identification  which  establishes  a 
criterion.  This  process  of  identification,  using  any  one  particular 
as  an  instance  which  satisfi.es  the  conditions  set  forth  by  the 
criterion,  collects  a  group  of  similar  particulars,  related  to  one 
another,  and  bound  together  by  the  criterion  common  to  them 
all.  The  material  of  our  perceptions  can  be  formed  and  ordered 
in  many  different  ways  according  to  the  criterion  which  is  used 
in  any  single  case;  every  given  criterion  forms  a  special  series  of 
perceptions  in  which  a  certain  relation  among  the  single  ele- 
ments of  this  series  prevails.  This  relation  can  be  determined 
by  the  degree  of  similarity  or  difference  among  the  successive 
terms  of  the  given  series,  but  it  also  can  be  determined  by  num- 
ber or  size,  by  dimensions  of  space  or  time. 

This  structure  of  concept  as  a  succession  of  terms  connected 
with  one  another  by  a  certain  criterion  Cassirer  named  "func- 
tional" concept.  Mathematical  concepts  are  all  of  this  kind — 
what  an  integral  number  is  can  be  understood  only  if  this  num- 
ber is  regarded  as  a  term  within  an  infinite  series  where  the 
relation  of  any  two  contiguous  terms  is  that  of  n  to  n  +1} 
negative,  fractional,  irrational  and  even  transcendent  numbers 
can  be  defined  only  as  terms  of  infinite  series  whose  structure  is 
determined  by  certain  rules,  according  to  which  all  terms  of 
these  series  are  connected  with  one  another  and  derived  from 
one  another.  This  holds  true  of  all  fields  of  mathematical  science 
— geometry  and  algebra,  the  infinitesimal  calculus,  quantum 
theory,  and  so  forth.  As  Georg  Cantor  once  said,  mathematics  is 
a  free  science,  free  in  the  sense  that  its  concepts  are  neither  de- 
rived from  nor  limited  by  the  world  of  real  things.  Infinity 
is  the  very  soul  of  mathematical  concepts}  and  the  law  which 
determines  the  relation  between  single  terms  spreads  endlessly 
in  all  directions  and  forms  a  perfectly  harmonious  system  whose 
every  term  is  bound  by  infinite  relations  to  all  other  terms  of  the 
same  system. 


222  DIMITRY  GAWRONSKY 

The  concepts  of  mechanics  reveal  the  same  nature,  the  same 
inward  structure  as  the  mathematical  concepts.  Take  as  ex- 
amples the  concepts  of  velocity  as  uniform  and  rectilinear 
motion,  of  uniform  acceleration,  of  continuous  space  and  of 
mass  reduced  to  a  point — they  all  represent  ideal  constructions 
and  criteria  determining  an  infinite  succession  of  forms,  which 
can  be  derived  from  one  another  according  to  a  constant  rule. 
Yet,  all  these  sharply  and  exactly  formed  ideal  concepts  not 
only  help  and  further  our  knowledge  of  real  things,  but  they 
actually  constitute  the  very  foundation  of  this  knowledge.  In 
order  to  understand  this  paradox  one  must  ask  himself  the 
following  question:  what  exactly  is  it  to  which  we  apply  these 
ideal  notions?  Is  it  sensations,  perceptions,  or  objects  of  the 
external  world?  The  philosophy  of  critical  idealism,  whose  basic 
tendencies  Cassirer  faithfully  espoused  and  strongly  developed 
throughout  his  life,  gives  the  following  answer:  the  primary 
stuff  of  our  consciousness  consists  of  disconnected,  fluctuating, 
chaotic  sensations,  into  which  the  human  mind  slowly  and 
steadily  brings  regularity  and  order  by  connecting  (and  bind- 
ing) dispersed  sensations  and  forming  them  into  objects.  It 
would  be  quite  wrong  to  think  that  there  exist  two  sharply 
separated  realms — the  realm  of  sensations  and  the  realm  of 
objects — and  that  the  true  goal  of  our  knowledge  consists  in 
an  unequivocal  connection  of  sensations  with  the  corresponding 
objects.  The  truth  is  that  in  the  given  form  these  two  separated 
realms  do  not  exist  at  all  and  that  the  actual  process  of  our 
knowledge  consists  in  something  quite  different.  Take  the 
simplest  sensation,  and  you  will  find  present  in  it  already  a 
considerable  amount  of  objective  elements.  Modern  psychology 
teaches  us  that  an  infant  of  six  months,  not  yet  able  to  distin- 
guish separate  sensations  from  one  another,  is,  none  the  less, 
already  able  to  comprehend  the  expressions  of  his  mother's  face 
correctly,  and  consequently  feels  whether  his  mother  is  pleased 
with  him  or  not.  On  the  other  hand,  take  any  object,  even  a 
highly  complex  and  well  known  one,  and  you  will  always  find 
that  some  subjective  impressions  doggedly  stick  to  it.  What 
really  and  truly  is  going  on  in  our  consciousness  is  not  a  grasp- 
ing at  objects  but  a  continuous  process  of  objectification — the 


EPISTEMOLOGY  OF  PHYSICS  223 

raw  material  of  our  sensations  is  gradually  and  systematically 
being  worked  over  by  the  concepts  and  methods  of  our  mind, 
is  being  formed  and  objectified;  what  we  name  "objects"  are 
in  reality  nothing  else  but  more  or  less  advanced  stages  of  this 
infinite  process  of  obj edification.  A  completely  finished  object, 
one  freed  of  all  elements  of  uncertainty  and  subjectivity,  can 
be  given  only  as  the  ultimate  result  of  the  development  of 
science,  it  is  the  infinite  and  final  goal  of  human  knowledge. 
And,  conversely,  our  sensations  are  always,  to  a  greater  or 
smaller  degree,  imbued  with  elements  of  objectivity — an  abso- 
lutely pure  sensation  is  only  thinkable  as  the  ultimate  result  of 
an  endless  process  of  subjectification. 

These  considerations  open  the  way  toward  the  solution  of  our 
epistemological  problem:  the  profuse  and  fruitful  application  of 
the  ideal  concepts  of  mathematics  and  mechanics  to  the  world 
of  real  things.  Now  we  can  see  just  what  made  this  problem  so 
difficult:  the  primary  separation  into  two  different  and  inde- 
pendent worlds — the  world  of  ideal  concepts  and  the  world 
of  real  things — is  nothing  more  than  a  wrong  presumption. 
Take,  for  instance,  sudh  a  "real  thing"  as  matter  which  sur- 
rounds us  everywhere  in  such  impressive  quantities.  Greek 
science  first  thought  that  matter  was  continuous  substance;  then 
it  surmised  that  matter  was  of  atomic  structure.  And  now  we 
know  that  matter  is  nothing  but  condensed  energy  and  that  this 
energy  has — miraculously  enough — an  atomic  structure!  Our 
knowledge  of  the  atomic  bomb — no  matter  how  real  and  potent 
its  destructive  power  may  be — is  still  only  one,  and  by  no  means 
the  final,  stage  within  the  infinite  process  of  objectification;  and 
our  ideal  concepts  of  mathematics  and  mechanics  are  the  driving 
forces,  which  mold  and  regulate  this  process,  which  transform 
our  sensations  into  more  and  more  advanced  stages  of  objectifi- 
cation. The  intellect  and  its  ideal  concepts  from  the  outset 
perform  an  organic  and  absolutely  necessary  function  within 
this  process — no  knowledge  of  real  things  would  be  possible 
without  them. 

Guided  by  this  conviction,  Cassirer,  in  his  book,  Substanz- 
begrif  und  Funktionsbegrifi,  unfolded  step  by  step  the  syste- 
matic work  of  objectification  performed  by  natural  science  and 


224  DIMITRY  GAWRONSKY 

showed  the  basic  importance  of  some  very  complicated  branches 
of  mathematics,  including  the  quantum  theory.  However, 
strangely  enough,  not  once  in  this  book  did  he  mention  the 
theory  of  relativity,  although  Einstein's  first  fundamental 
publication  concerning  this  subject  had  appeared  five  years 
earlier  and  had  aroused  a  truly  sensational  interest.  In  1921, 
two  years  after  Einstein's  concept  of  the  curvature  of  light 
(when  it  passes  through  a  field  of  gravitation)  was  brilliantly 
proved  by  astronomical  observations,  Cassirer  published  a  book- 
let on  the  theory  of  relativity.  Yet  even  in  1910  Einstein's 
theory  was  already  very  much  talked  of,  and  that  not  merely 
in  scientific  circles,  but  everywhere  and  by  everyone.  Thus, 
there  must  have  been  some  reasons  for  Cassirer's  silence  on 
relativity  at  that  time,  which  should  prove  to  be  of  great  inter- 
est, if  it  could  be  discovered  what  "precisely"  the  reasons  were. 
In  his  first  publication  on  the  theory  of  relativity,  the  famous 
"Elektrodynamik  bewegter  Systeme,"  (1905),  Einstein,  for  the 
first  time  in  the  history  of  human  thought,  put  the  following 
question  in  so  many  words:  We  all  know  Newton's  definition  of 
"absolute,  true,  and  mathematical  time;"  but  in  what  way  can 
this  concept  be  applied  to  the  world  of  real  occurrences?  Sup- 
pose, for  some  special  purpose,  we  have  to  synchronize  three 
watches — one  in  New  York,  another  in  San  Francisco,  and  the 
third  halfway  between  them,  say  in  Norfolk,  Nebraska.  The 
only  correct  way  to  do  that  would  be  to  send,  let  us  say  at  12:00 
P.M.  sharp,  a  light  signal  from  Norfolk  to  the  two  other  cities, 
and  when  this  signal  would  arrive  in  each  of  the  two  cities,  the 
time  on  their  watches  should  be  put  at  12:00  P.M.  plus  one 
hundredth  of  a  second,  since  it  would  take  the  light  signal  that 
much  time  to  reach  those  cities.  This  procedure  seems  to  be 
quite  correct  and  even  matter-of-course;  yet  Einstein  proved 
that  it  was  incorrect,  since  it  did  not  allow  for  the  rotation  of 
the  earth.  In  our  example  the  light  signal  would  reach  New 
York  earlier  than  San  Francisco,  since  New  York  would,  so 
to  speak,  move  to  meet  this  signal,  whereas  San  Francisco 
would,  as  it  were,  run  away  from  it.  Thus,  concluded  Einstein, 
time,  within  a  given  system,  depends  on  whether  this  system 
is  moving  or  not  and — if  it  is — on  the  velocity  of  its  movement. 


EPISTEMOLOGY  OF  PHYSICS  225 

In  a  second  example  Einstein  showed  that  there  is  only  one 
way  to  measure  the  length  of  a  moving  object,  namely,  to  use 
light  signals  and  synchronized  watches;  but,  inasmuch  as  syn- 
chronization of  watches  depends  upon  the  movement  of  a  given 
system,  the  length  of  an  object  must  also  depend  on  this  move- 
ment. 

These  two  examples  given  by  Einstein  were  so  surprisingly 
novel,  so  impressive,  so  convincingly  true  that  the  attention  of 
the  scientific  world  was  immediately  focused  on  him.  However, 
this  was  only  the  beginning  $  he  also  discovered  other  most  in- 
genious and  important  physical  laws,  as,  for  instance,  the  exact 
correlation  between  electric  and  magnetic  fields,  and,  in  particu- 
lar, the  relation  between  mass  and  energy:  E  =  mc2;  this 
formula  was  made  so  popular  by  the  atomic  bomb  that  one  can 
now  find  it  even  in  newspaper  advertisements.  The  great 
authority  of  Einstein  as  a  true  genius  of  natural  science  was, 
thus,  firmly  and  indisputably  established. 

And  yet:  an  objective  study  of  the  whole  complex  of  Ein- 
stein's theories  shows  clearly  that  there  is  also  another  side  to 
them  and  that  Einstein's  case  at  certain  points  repeats  a  phe- 
nomenon which  is  sometimes  met  in  the  history  of  natural 
science,  namely,  that  a  well  recognized  authority  advances  a 
theory  which  is  obviously  inconsistent  and  later  may  even  be 
proved  wrong.  Yet  such  a  theory  may  nevertheless  be  immedi- 
ately accepted  and,  supported  as  it  is  by  the  weighty  name  of 
its  famous  originator,  it  is  likely  to  become  a  part  of  accepted 
science.  The  most  striking  example  of  this  kind  is  provided  by 
the  physics  of  Aristotle:  as  late  as  in  the  seventeenth  century 
the  official  doctrine  in  physics  accepted  Aristotle's  thesis  that 
the  velocity  of  a  falling  object  is  proportional  to  its  weight; 
viz.,  ten  bricks  tied  together  fall  ten  times  faster  to  the  earth 
than  a  single  brick;  or  that  a  stone  dropped  on  a  moving  ship 
from  the  top  of  a  mast  falls  not  to  the  base  of  this  mast  but 
into  the  water,  an  experiment  Aristotle  allegedly  performed 
many  times.  So  great  was  Aristotle's  authority  that  the  physi- 
cians among  his  followers  implicitly  believed  his  assertion  that 
the  heart  is  the  center  of  the  nervous  system.  Galileo  tells  us 
that  ^t  one  time  a  human  body  was  dissected  in  the  presence 


226  DIMITRY  GAWRONSKY 

of  a  large  group  of  Aristotelians  and  the  dissection  incontro- 
vertibly  proved  that  it  is  the  brain  which  is  the  center  of  the 
nervous  system.  Thereupon  the  spokesman  of  the  Aristotelians 
declared:  "You  gave  us  such  clear  and  evident  proof,  that,  were 
it  not  asserted  by  Aristotle  that  the  nerve-center  lies  in  the 
heart,  we  would  be  forced  to  the  admission  that  you  are  right." 
Yet,  Aristotle  is  not  the  only  great  authority  of  whom  this 
sort  of  thing  is  true.  Other  instances  could  easily  be  cited.  But 
this  is  not  the  place  for  such — however  interesting — stories. 

Something  akin  to  it  we  find  in  some  elements  of  Einstein's 
theory  of  relativity.  Having  proved  that  the  necessity  of  using 
light  signals  for  the  measurement  of  time  and  space  in  moving 
systems  is  bound  to  influence  the  results  of  this  measurement, 
Einstein,  without  reason  or  explanation,  stops  following  up 
this  absolutely  correct  and  revolutionary  idea  and  supersedes 
it  by  another  explanation  which  is  quite  wrong:  in  a  moving 
system  the  time  and  the  length  of  objects  change  because  the 
movement  of  a  system  influences  the  motion  of  watch  mecha- 
nisms by  slowing  them  down  and  influences  the  length  of  ma- 
terial objects  by  physically  contracting  them.  This  sounds  so 
incredible  that  we  must  quote  Einstein  himself.  "A  balanced 
watch  placed  on  the  equator  moves  by  a  very  small  amount 
slower  than  an  exactly  identical  watch  would  move  under  other- 
wise quite  identical  conditions  except  that  it  is  placed  at  the 
pole."2  In  this  quotation  Einstein  does  not  speak  of  the  watch 
in  general,  but  rather  he  stresses  that  it  has  to  be  a  balanced 
watch.  Why?  Because,  according  to  Einstein  and  his  most 
famous  followers,  like,  for  instance,  Max  von  Laue,  only  the 
balance  wheel  (this  regulating  gear  of  a  watch),  is  slowed 
down  by  the  velocity  of  the  moving  system  to  which  this 
watch  belongs.  At  once  the  question  arises:  And  how  about  other 
kinds  of  timepieces  which  work  without  coiling  spring  and 
balance  wheel,  for  instance,  clepsydra  or  hourglass?  Einstein 
did  not  think  of  them;  yet  he  did  think  of  the  pendulum-clock, 
and  therefore  added  the  following  words:  a  balance-watch  "in 

*  Einstein's  "Elektrodynamik  bewegter  Systeme,"  reprinted  in  the  Fortschritte  der 
mathematmhen  Wissenschaften,  No.  2,  p.  38.  (Translation  by  the  present  writer.) 


EPISTEMOLOGY  OF  PHYSICS  227 

opposition  to  a  balance-clock  which  represents — from  the  point 
of  view  of  physics — the  same  system  as  the  terrestrial  globe; 
this  case  has  to  be  excluded,"  If  what  Einstein  says  here  is  true, 
then  there  is  nothing  easier  than  to  avoid  all  complications  by 
simply  using  pendulum-clocks  exclusively,  never  the  balance- 
watches  j  then  the  theory  of  relativity  would  not  be  a  novel  and 
revolutionary  conception  of  time  and  space,  but  merely  a  ques- 
tion of  using  incorrect  or  correct  technical  instruments.  Yet 
Einstein's  attempt  to  make  his  theory  dependent  on  the  kind 
of  timepieces  used  is  just  as  strange  and  contains  just  as  much 
truth  as,  for  instance,  the  assertion  that  the  validity  of  non- 
Euclidean  geometry  depends  on  the  type  of  glasses  a  mathema- 
tician wears. 

Einstein's  so-called  special  theory  of  relativity,  the  only  one 
to  which  we  are  here  referring,  did  not  introduce  any  new 
mathematical  formula;  it  was  rather  an  attempt  to  give  a  new 
interpretation  to  the  Lorentz-transformation,  and  the  fallacy 
of  Einstein's  interpretation  could  not  in  any  way  invalidate 
the  importance  and  fruitfulness  of  the  Lorentz-transformation. 
Yet  this  fallacy  of  interpretation  is  the  source  of  all  the  para- 
doxes and  inconsistencies  of  Einstein's  theory.  Take,  for 
instance,  the  so-called — and  very  famous  at  that — "paradox 
of  the  watch"  which  Einstein  later  expressed  in  the  following 
drastic  form: 

If  we  could  put  a  living  organism  into  a  box  and  compel  it  to  perform 
the  same  regular  movements  as  a  balance-watch  does,  then  it  would  be 
possible  to  achieve  that  this  organism  would  return  to  its  starting  place 
after  as  long  a  flight  as  you  like  and  would  not  show  any  changes  what- 
soever, whereas  quite  similar  organisms  which  all  this  time  stayed  quietly 
in  their  place  would  be  superseded  by  several  consecutive  generations. 
The  long  time  which  this  journey  lasted  was  for  the  moving  organism 
not  more  than  one  single  moment,  provided  only  that  it  moved  approxi- 
mately with  the  velocity  of  light.  This  is  an  inevitable  consequence  of 
our  fundamental  principles  imposed  upon  us  by  experimental  knowledge.8 

In  reading  these  words  one  involuntarily  thinks  of  what 

'Einstein,  "Die  Relativitatstheorie."  Vierteljahnschrift  der  naturforsckenden 
Gesellschaft,  Zurich,  Vol.  56,  p.  12.  (Translation  by  the  present  writer.) 


228  DIMITRY  GAWRONSKY 

Aristotle  said  after  asserting  that  a  stone,  dropped  on  a  moving 
ship  from  the  top  of  the  mast,  falls  into  the  water:  "This  experi- 
ment I  performed  several  times."  First  of  all,  Einstein's  allega- 
tion completely  contradicts  Einstein's  own  "fundamental  princi- 
ple" of  relativity.  According  to  this  principle,  movement  is 
always  relative  to  some  other  system,  and  there  is  no  way  of 
ascertaining  which  of  these  two  systems  really  moves  and  which 
is  in  the  state  of  immobility,  or  which  part  of  this  relative  move- 
ment is  performed  by  either  of  these  systems.  Yet  Einstein's 
example  of  a  moving  organism  brings  back  the  idea  of  absolute 
movement:  the  surviving  organism  was  really  in  a  state  of 
motion,  whereas  the  extinct  generations  were  in  a  state  of  im- 
mobility. Furthermore,  the  assertion  that  time  slows  down 
under  the  influence  of  movement  is  quite  wrong.  If  one  follows 
up  Einstein's  brilliant  example  of  the  synchronization  of  three 
watches  in  three  different  cities,  one  finds  the  following  phe- 
nomenon: so  long  as  a  watch  recedes  from  the  observer,  the  time 
on  this  watch  appears  to  him  as  retarded;  but  the  moment  this 
watch  begins  approaching  the  observer,  the  time  on  it  appears 
as  accelerated  in  the  same  degree,  and  as  an  ultimate  result  there 
is  absolutely  no  loss  or  gain  of  time.4 

Truth  is  always  simple,  understandable,  impressive.  This  is 
the  case  with  all  elements  of  Einstein's  theory  which  are  veri- 
fiably  correct.  Only  those  elements  of  Einstein's  theory  are 
difficult  which  are  basically  wrong.  The  famous  originator  of 
the  quantum  theory,  Max  Planck,  once  said  of  the  theory  of 
relativity:  "It  is  hardly  necessary  to  emphasize  that  this  novel 
conception  of  time  puts  the  highest  demands  upon  the  power 
of  imagination  of  a  physicist  and  upon  his  ability  of  abstraction. 
Its  boldness  surpasses  everything  which  previously  had  been 
accomplished  in  the  speculative  philosophy  of  nature  and  even 
in  philosophical  epistemologyj  compared  to  it,  non-Euclidean 
geometry  is  mere  child's  play."5  It  certainly  was  not  Einstein's 
intention  to  enrich  the  "speculative  philosophy  of  nature"  with 

4  See  my  booklet,  "Der  fkysikalische  Gehalt  der  speziellen  Relattvitatstheorie," 
Stuttgart,  Engelhorns. 

8  Max  Planck,  Acht  Vorlesungen  iiber  theoretische  Phy$ikt  1910,  p.  117. 
(Translation  by  the  present  writer.) 


EPISTEMOLOGY  OF  PHYSICS  229 

his  theory  ;  he  is  a  great  physicist,  and  some  parts  of  his  theory 
will  probably  live  forever  in  the  science  of  men;  but  the  in- 
correct parts  of  his  theory  belong  nowhere,  not  even  to  specula- 
tive philosophy. 

It  is  most  interesting  to  observe  in  what  manner  Cassirer,  in 
his  booklet,  7,wr  Einstein*  schen  Relativitatstheorie,  deals  with 
the  theory  of  relativity,  this  amazing  combination  of  profound 
truths  and  striking  inconsistencies.  Cassirer  knew  Einstein  per- 
sonally and,  as  he  tells  in  the  preface  to  his  booklet,  showed  the 
manuscript  to  Einstein  before  having  it  printed.  In  the  whole 
booklet  one  does  not  find  one  single  word  of  criticism  or  doubt; 
at  the  same  time,  only  those  elements  of  Einstein's  theory  are 
discussed  which  are  undoubtedly  fruitful  and  true.  Cassirer 
regards  the  theory  of  relativity  as  one  link  in  the  long  chain  of 
scientific  and  philosophical  development,  as  an  important  con- 
stituent in  the  whole  structure  of  epistemology.  He  starts  with 
the  general  problem  of  measuring  and  shows  that  it  is  the  first 
step  to  the  objectification  of  our  sensations,  their  transformation 
into  elements  of  scientific  experience.  Our  methods  of  measuring 
are  always  based  upon  some  principles  and  axioms.  One  of  these 
axioms  always  was  that  units  of  time,  length,  mass,  are  quite 
independent  of  whether  they  are  applied  in  a  moving  or  a 
motionless  system.  Einstein  showed  the  incorrectness  of  this 
axiom  by  proving  that  these  units  themselves  depend  on  the 
velocity  of  a  given  system.  Cassirer  does  not  at  all  discuss  the 
question:  What  is  the  cause  of  this  change?  He  does  not  even 
mention  Einstein's  explanation  according  to  which  even  uniform 
and  rectilinear  motion  physically  affects  the  mechanism  of  a 
watch,  an  explanation  which,  by  the  way,  directly  contradicts 
Galileo's  and  Newton's  principle  of  inertia. 

In  order  to  explain  the  crisis  into  which  science  was  thrown 
by  the  negative  result  of  Michelson's  experiment,  let  me  use 
the  following  imaginary  example:  an  observer  on  a  highway 
sees  an  automobile  moving  with  the  velocity  of  a  hundred  miles 
per  hour;  at  the  same  time  he  sees  a  plane  flying  in  the  same 
direction  with  the  velocity  of  three  hundred  miles  per  hour; 
the  observer  does  not  doubt  for  a  moment  that — if  the  passen- 
gers of  the  car  compared  their  velocity  with  the  velocity  of  the 


230  DIMITRY  GAWRONSKY 

plane — they  would  find  a  difference  of  two  hundred  miles. 
How  greatly  amazed  one  would  be,  if  he  were  told  that  in 
relation  to  him  the  plane  still  flies  at  the  velocity  of  three 
hundred  miles!  Einstein's  method  of  solving  this  difficulty  was 
the  following:  he  showed  on  the  examples  of  synchronization 
of  watches  and  measuring  of  length  within  a  moving  system 
that  both  operations  could  be  performed  only  with  the  help 
of  light  signals;  and  then  he  said  (not  literally,  to  be  sure): 
You  see,  our  units  of  time  and  length  are  not  at  all  as  matter- 
of-course  as  we  used  to  think  of  them;  they  are  rather  uncertain, 
they  change  along  with  the  velocity  of  a  given  system,  and, 
since  this  is  the  case,  why  should  we  not  presuppose  that  the 
changes  these  units  undergo  are  just  big  enough  to  explain  the 
fact  that  our  plane  flies  relatively  both  to  the  highway  and  to 
the  speeding  car  with  the  same  velocity  of  three  hundred  miles? 

One  can  hardly  regard  this  as  a  solution  to  our  problem,  in- 
asmuch as  the  problem  itself  is  simply  transformed  into  a  sup- 
position. At  the  same  time  Einstein's  analysis  of  the  problem  of 
synchronization  contains  all  the  elements  of  the  correct  solu- 
tion. Yet,  amazingly  enough,  he  did  not  follow  up  the  novel 
and  most  promising  road  he  had  himself  discovered.  But  this 
method — to  transform  the  problem  into  a  supposition — Ein- 
stein used  once  more,  when  he  replaced  Newton's  law  of  gravi- 
tation with  a  slightly  different  law  of  a  very  complicated  mathe- 
matical structure.  Newton  derived  his  law  of  gravitation  from 
Kepler's  third  law  of  planetary  motion;  this  was  a  simple  and 
most  convincing  demonstration  of  Newton's  law.  Einstein's 
procedure  was  different;  he  tried  to  construct  a  mathematical 
formula  which  had  to  satisfy  the  following  conditions:  to  con- 
tain Newton's  formula  as  first  approximation  and  to  produce  the 
amount  of  the  perihelion  movement  of  the  planet  Mercury;  it 
was  an  ad  hoc  formula,  a  transformation  of  a  problem  into  a 
supposition. 

Cassirer  does  not  criticize  or  reject  this  procedure;  he  gives 
a  quite  adequate  description  of  it  and  introduces  his  own  analysis 
with  the  following  spirited  words  of  Goethe:  "The  highest  art 
in  science  and  life  consists  in  transforming  a  problem  into  a 
postulate;  one  gets  through  this  way."  But  Cassirer  does  not 


EPISTEMOLOGY  OF  PHYSICS  231 

dwell  on  this  subject}  whereas  Einstein's  conception  of  matter 
as  condensed  energy,  this  daring  and  practically  most  important 
of  his  theories,  is  discussed  at  great  length.  Cassirer  shows  that 
the  entire  history  of  physics  had  been  dominated  by  a  peculiar 
dualism  in  the  apprehension  of  nature.  Democritus  introduced 
the  concepts  of  the  atom  and  of  empty  space  as  the  only  sources 
of  physical  reality.  In  the  subsequent  centuries  this  dualism 
transformed  itself  into  the  acceptance  of  pure  form  concepts 
(like  space  and  time),  on  the  one  hand,  and  of  substance  con- 
cepts (like  matter),  on  the  other.  Descartes  was  the  first  to 
attempt  a  unification  of  these  two  concept  groups}  by  levelling 
any  distinction  between  them  he  dissolved,  as  it  were,  the  sub- 
stance of  a  physical  object  into  a  system  of  purely  geometrical 
relations.  Yet  Cartesian  physics  proved  to  be  ineffectual,  and 
Newton  refuted  Descartes1  physical  theories  and  went  back  to 
the  old  dualism  of  space  as  a  kind  of  a  vessel  and  of  matter  as 
substance  contained  in  it.  Faraday  was  the  first  to  bring  about 
a  new  conception  of  matter,  by  advancing  the  theory  that  matter 
consists  of  lines  of  force,  that  it  is  nothing  but  a  spot  within  a 
field  of  force.  This  theory  stirred  up  a  strong  development  of 
the  so-called  "field-physics,"  which  did  not  accept  the  existence 
of  matter  and  space  as  two  separate  factors,  but  regarded  matter 
as  an  "offspring  of  field."  Einstein's  theory  of  relativity  repre- 
sents the  last  link  within  this  development}  it  does  not  accept 
space,  time,  matter,  and  force  as  independent  factors,  but  re- 
gards the  physical  world  as  a  four-dimensional  multiplicity. 
Along  with  this  new  conception  of  the  world  another  historical 
development  has  been  brought  to  its  conclusion.  Leibniz  already 
had  completely  dissolved  matter  into  force,  yet  he  retained  a 
distinction  between  two  kinds  of  forces,  "active"  and  "passive" 
forces.  Einstein's  theory  brings  about  the  ultimate  fusion  be- 
tween the  two  fundamental  principles  of  modern  physics — 
the  principle  of  the  conservation  of  mass  and  the  principle  of  the 
conservation  of  energy.  The  qualitative  difference  between 
matter  and  energy  disappears  entirely. 

This  method  is  typical  of  Cassirer's  treatment  of  Einstein's 
theory — the  historical  continuity  of  scientific  thought  appears 
clearly  and  convincingly  in  Cassirer's  argumentation.  The  prin- 


232  DIMITRY  GAWRONSKY 

ciples  of  physics  introduced  by  Galileo  and  further  developed 
by  Newton  are  only  confirmed  and  enlarged  in  the  theory  of 
relativity.  And  since  Cassirer,  with  his  keen  sense  of  con- 
sistency and  exactness  of  scientific  truth,  concentrated  his  atten- 
tion only  on  those  elements  of  Einstein's  theory  which  are 
correct  and  fruitful,  Cassirer  acquitted  himself  of  this  task  most 
brilliantly.  He  does  not  mention  with  even  one  single  word 
Einstein's  assertion  that  uniform  and  rectilinear  movement 
influences  a  watch  mechanism  and  slows  it  down,  or  that  this 
movement  keeps  a  living  organism  indefinitely  alive,  or  that 
there  is  a  basic  difference  between  a  balance-watch  and  pendu- 
lum-clock. Only  one  of  Einstein's  assertions  is  casually  men- 
tioned by  Cassirer,  despite  the  fact  that  it  definitely  belongs 
to  the  group  of  erroneous  elements  within  Einstein's  theory. 
I  am  referring  to  Einstein's  assertion  (repeated  several  times 
by  himself,  and  many  thousands  of  times  by  his  followers)  that 
Euclidean  geometry  loses  its  validity  within  a  system  which  is 
in  a  state  of  motion,  even  of  uniform  and  rectilinear  motion. 
Take,  for  instance,  the  ratio  of  the  circumference  of  a  circle  to 
its  diameter  (pi);  it  changes  its  value  within  such  a  moving 
system,  it  becomes  smaller,  according  to  Einstein.  Why?  The 
reason,  says  Einstein,  is  quite  simple.  If  you  have  a  rotating 
disk,  then,  since  all  moving  objects  become  shorter  in  the  di- 
rection of  their  movement,  the  circumference  of  this  disk  will 
be  smaller  than  the  circumference  of  the  same  disk  in  the  state 
of  immobility,  and  the  corresponding  ratio  will  drop  below  pi. 
This  whole  argument  is  entirely  wrong  $  and  the  fact  that  so 
many  earnest  scientists  willingly  accepted  it  is  very  strange 
indeed.  This  is  such  a  striking  example  of  mass-suggestion  (not 
to  say  gullibility)  in  the  field  of  "exact"  ( ! )  science  that  it  is 
worth  while  to  dwell  a  bit  more  upon  this  subject. 

In  order  to  prove  that  moving  objects  become  shorter  in  the 
direction  of  their  movement,  Einstein  invented  a  very  ingenious 
example  which,  when  adapted  to  American  geography,  might 
take  the  following  form:  suppose  that  an  immensely  long  air- 
ship of  approximately  3000  miles  in  length  is  flying  in  west- 
east  direction  over  American  territory,  with  one  end  over  San 
Francisco  and  the  other  end  over  New  York,  just  at  the  moment 


EPISTEMOLOGY  OF  PHYSICS  233 

when  we  are  trying  to  find  out  the  precise  length  of  this  air- 
ship. There  is  only  one  way  to  do  that,  namely,  to  notice,  at 
precisely  the  same  moment,  both  ends  of  the  airship,  one  in 
San  Francisco  and  the  other  in  New  York,  and  then  figure  out 
the  distance  between  these  markings.  For  this  purpose  we  must 
have  perfectly  synchronized  watches  placed  in  both  cities.  Yet 
this  is  impossible,  as  we  have  already  seen — the  watch  in  San 
Francisco  will  be  slower  than  the  watch  in  New  York;  there- 
fore we  shall  be  marking  the  rear  end  of  the  airship  later  than 
the  front  end,  and  the  airship  will  consequently  appear  to  us 
to  be  shortened.  Very  well.  But  now  suppose  that  two  airships 
move  simultaneously,  but  in  opposite  directions — is  it  not  abso- 
lutely clear  that  in  this  case  the  second  ship  will  appear  longer 
in  exact  proportion  as  the  first  ship  will  appear  shorter?  Thus, 
if  you  take  a  rotating  disk,  you  will  have  to  admit  by  the  same 
reasoning  that,  since  the  two  halves  of  its  circumference  always 
move  in  opposite  direction,  one  half  shortens  in  exactly  the  same 
proportion  in  which  the  other  half  lengthens  5  the  effect  of 
rotation  is  neutralized,  pi  remains  absolutely  unchanged,  and 
there  is  no  reason  whatsoever  to  dethrone  Euclidean  geometry 
on  this  illusory  ground. 

During  the  last  years  of  his  stay  in  Germany  Cassirer  devoted 
increasingly  more  time  to  the  study  of  the  quantum  theory,  and 
when,  in  the  spring  of  1933,  he  decided  to  leave  Germany,  he 
went  to  Switzerland  and  there  he  wrote  the  first  draft  of  his 
Determinismus  und  Indeterminismus  in  der  modernen  Phystk. 
This  book  was  his  last  major  contribution  to  epistemology  and 
to  the  philosophy  of  natural  science.  The  subsequent  years  of 
his  life,  with  their  frequent  peregrinations  and  changes  of  place 
of  activity,  deprived  him  to  some  degree  of  the  steady  tran- 
quillity which  was  so  favorable  to  his  assiduous  work.  Besides, 
the  new  social  phenomenon  which  suddenly  appeared  on  the 
stage  of  history  and  at  once  began  threatening  the  future  of 
mankind — totalitarianism  based  upon  and  supported  by  the 
fanaticism  of  deceived  masses — moved  Cassirer  to  transfer  the 
center  of  gravity  of  his  studies  to  the  problems  of  social  science. 

Quantum  theory  and  the  theory  of  relativity  are  the  two 
outstanding:  achievements  of  theoretical  phvsics  in  the  last  half- 


234  DIMITRY  GAWRONSKY 

century.  Yet,  how  different  was  their  ultimate  fate!  Max  Planck 
was  compelled  to  advance  his  incredible  and  almost  incompre- 
hensible conception  that  energy  has  a  discontinuous  structure 
and  consists  of  elementary  quanta,  of  which  all  other  amounts  of 
energy  are  multiples,  since  otherwise  it  was  impossible  to  ex- 
plain the  peculiar  and  quite  "unclassical"  manner  in  which 
energy  is  radiated  by  a  black  body.  From  the  outset  it  was 
obvious  that  here  a  perfectly  new  and  truly  revolutionary 
principle  was  being  introduced  into  physics.  Yet  Planck  tried 
by  every  means  to  retain  the  continuity  of  scientific  thought  and 
was  only  willing  to  admit  the  quite  "inevitable  deviation  from 
the  laws  of  electrodynamics  in  the  smallest  possible  degree. 
Therefore,  as  far  as  it  concerns  the  influence  of  a  radiation  field 
upon  an  oscillator,  we  go  hand  in  hand  with  the  classical 
theory."6  Which  means  that  Planck,  although  accepting  energy 
quanta  for  the  radiation,  still  retained  the  point  of  view  of 
classical  physics  upon  the  absorption  of  energy  by  an  oscillator. 
From  the  very  beginning  Planck  based  his  theory  strictly  upon 
experience  and  experiment,  and  his  hypothesis,  despite  its 
breath-taking  character,  advanced  therefore  from  one  great 
triumph  to  another,  never  meeting  with  any  serious  opposition. 
The  road  of  the  theory  of  relativity  was  quite  different.  Ein- 
stein made  a  great  discovery  by  recognizing  the  decisive  role 
the  light  signals  play  in  the  measuring  of  time  and  space ;  this 
discovery  was  in  perfect  harmony  with  the  Galileo-Newtonian 
mechanics}  it  was  a  correct  and  most  important  materialization 
of  their  general  concepts  of  time  and  space.  Yet,  instead  of  con- 
tinuing this  line  of  development,  he  made  a  quite  inconsistent 
and  "anti-classical"  supposition  to  the  effect  that  uniform  and 
rectilinear  motion  influence  the  mechanism  of  a  balance-watch. 
This  was  a  violent  and  quite  unwarranted  break  with  classical 
mechanics.  And  the  paradoxes  involved  in  the  suppositions  of 
a  living  organism  surviving  in  a  fraction  of  a  second  several 
consecutive  generations  of  its  kind,  or  of  a  rotating  disk  invali- 
dating Euclidean  geometry,  helped  to  create  such  an  unsound 

9  Max  Planck,  Vorlesungen  iiber  die  Theorie  der  W armestrahlungy  3rd  Ed.  p. 
148.  Quotation  taken  from  Cassirer's  book,  p.  136  (Translation  by  the  present 
writer) . 


EPISTEMOLOGY  OF  PHYSICS  235 

sensation  around  this  theory  that  it  slowly  became  even  a 
political  issue — the  reactionaries  were  against  it  because  of  Ein- 
stein's Jewish  lineage,  and  the  communists  were  for  it  because 
of  the  "revolutionary  spirit"  of  this  theory.  A  line  of  cleavage 
in  the  field  of  science  which  is  nothing  short  of  scandalous.  But 
now  back  to  Cassirer's  book,  Determinismus  und  Indeter- 
minismus. 

Cassirer's  first  step  consists  in  the  analyzing  of  the  factual 
procedure  of  physics,  of  the  concrete  way  in  which  it  achieves 
its  knowledge  of  nature.  He  distinguishes  three  different  forms 
of  assertion  within  the  physical  sciences,  three  basically  differ- 
ent stages  on  the  way  towards  the  obj  edification  of  our  "world 
of  sense"  into  the  "world  of  physics."  The  first  form  of  physi- 
cal assertions  Cassirer  calls  "judgments  concerning  measure- 
ment"— the  data  of  our  perceptions  are  gradually  transformed, 
with  the  aid  of  concepts  of  measurement  and  of  number,  into 
more  and  more  objectified  assertions.  The  sensibility  of  our 
organs  of  perception  is  superseded  by  the  sensibility  of  our 
physical  instruments.  In  this  way  the  material  of  our  knowl- 
edge has  increased  tremendously  and  the  horizon  of  reality  has 
been  widened  in  all  directions.  This  enriched  material  of  our 
experience  becomes  the  basis  for  the  next  step,  for  its  unifica- 
tion and  systematization  with  the  help  of  natural  laws;  Cassirer 
called  this  stage  of  objectification  "assertions  about  laws."  These 
laws  combine  smaller  or  larger  groups  of  facts  into  one  single 
formula.  Yet  our  science  does  not  stop  here}  it  is  not  satisfied 
with  unification  of  innumerable  facts  through  a  limited  system 
of  lawsj  it  constantly  explores  the  possibility  of  unifying  these 
laws,  of  connecting  them  with  one  another  and  sometimes  de- 
riving them  from  one  another.  This  endeavor  characterizes  the 
third  stage  of  objectification  which  Cassirer  calls  "assertions  of 
principles."  Thus,  D'Alembert's  "principle  of  virtual  displace- 
ment" made  possible  the  unification  of  statics  and  dynamics 
under  one  and  the  same  system  of  mechanical  laws;  and  the 
principle  of  conservation  of  energy  builds  bridges  connecting  all 
branches  of  physics. 

Yet  human  thought  does  not  confine  itself  to  these  three 
stages  of  physical  knowledge — it  belongs  to  the  very  essence  of 


236  DIMITRY  GAWRONSKY 

the  human  mind  to  continue  the  search  for  ever  more  and  more 
general  laws  and  principles,  and  it  finds  such  in  the  systems  of 
mathematical,  logical,  and  epistemological  concepts.  The  law  of 
causation  belongs  to  the  system  of  epistemological  concepts;  it 
does  not  contain  any  assertion  about  this  or  that  special  occur- 
rence in  nature;  it  only  asserts  the  thorough  and  consistent  uni- 
formity of  all  natural  events  and  of  nature  as  a  whole.  Every 
single  law  of  nature  may  some  day  turn  out  to  be  incorrect,  even 
the  sunrise  in  the  morning;  yet,  even  if  this  event  should  occur, 
one  thing  will  be  absolutely  certain:  there  will  be  some  cause 
for  that  event.  Without  this  law  of  causation  no  natural  laws, 
and,  therefore,  no  human  knowledge  is  possible. 

The  law  of  causation  was  always  regarded  as  the  main  pillar 
of  the  classical  physics.  But  when  the  development  of  the 
quantum  theory  convincingly  revealed  its  fundamental  differ- 
ence from  the  classical  physics,  there  appeared  a  tendency  within 
this  theory  to  break  even  with  causality  and  to  replace  the  classi- 
cal determinism  with  a  modernized  form  of  indeterminism. 
This  attack  upon  the  law  of  causation  has  been  launched  by 
some  physicists  mainly  from  the  following  point  of  view:  the 
first  point  of  view  is  based  upon  a  statistical  interpretation  of 
quantum  theory — it  operates  only  with  immense  numbers  of 
elementary  particles  of  electricity  and  denies  the  possibility  of  a 
precise  description  of  the  conditions  of  single  elements  within 
a  given  system;  only  laws  of  probability  can  be  applied  to  such 
systems,  only  statistical  results  can  be  obtained  by  these  laws — 
there  remains,  therefore,  no  place  for  causation  within  these 
systems.  It  is  with  ease  that  Cassirer  uncovers  the  fallacy  of  this 
point  of  view.  Statistical  results,  he  points  out,  very  often  have 
the  character  of  strict  necessity;  the  only  condition  being  that 
they  must  not  be  arbitrary  or  incoherent,  but  based  upon  laws. 
The  kinetic  theory  of  gases  is  the  best  example  of  how  statistical 
methods  and  laws  of  probability  lead  to  strict  uniformity  and, 
therefore,  to  a  complete  vindication  of  the  law  of  causation. 

The  second  point  of  view  which  has  led  to  the  denial  of 
causality  is  more  radical,  even  if  not  so  well  founded.  This 
attack  is  led  by  the  well-known  physicist  and  Nobel  prize- 
winner Heisenberg  and  is  based  upon  his  principle  of  "uncer- 


EPISTEMOLOGY  OF  PHYSICS  237 

tainty"  or  "indeterminacy."  All  elements  of  physical  observa- 
tion and  experiment  are  given  to  us,  says  Heisenberg,  not  in  the 
form  of  absolutely  exact  knowledge,  not  as  Kantian  trans- 
cendent "things-in-themselves" — rather  they  are  the  results  of 
our  instruments  of  measurement  and  depend  strictly  on  the 
delicacy  of  these  instruments.  But  this  quite  matter-of-course 
fact  leads  us  within  the  quantum  theory  to  the  following  'pe- 
culiar paradox:  suppose  that  an  observer  has  the  task  of  deter- 
mining exactly  the  position  and  the  velocity  of  an  electron;  in 
order  to  do  that  he  must  irradiate  this  electron  and  put  it  under 
a  microscope  5  the  experiment  shows  that  the  shorter  the  waves 
of  light  are  which  we  use  for  this  irradiation  the  more  exactly 
can  the  position  of  this  electron  be  determined  ;  but  at  the  same 
time  the  electron,  as  a  result  of  the  "Compton-effect,"  changes 
its  velocity,  and  this  change  is  the  greater  the  shorter  are  the 
waves  of  the  irradiating  light.  Thus,  concludes  Heisenberg,  it 
is  quite  impossible  simultaneously  to  perform  an  exact  measure- 
ment of  both  the  position  and  the  velocity  of  an  electron,  since 
the  more  exact  one  measurement  is  the  more  uncertain  the  other 
one  becomes.  Heisenberg's  conclusion  is:  "Thus  quantum  me- 
chanics has  definitely  established  the  worthlessness  of  the  law  of 
causation." 

It  is  almost  incredible  how  many  serious  scientists  have  been 
influenced  by  this  conception  of  Heisenberg's.  A  new  wave  of 
mass-suggestion  was  on  the  verge  of  submerging  a  large  num- 
ber of  physicists — people  who  by  the  very  virtue  of  their  pro- 
fession should  be  fairly  rational.  Cassirer's  attempt  to  combat 
this  contemporary  aberration  in  science  was  quite  timely,  there- 
fore. His  method  of  demonstrating  the  erroneousness  of  Hei- 
senberg's  deduction  was  as  simple  as  it  was  convincing.  He 
showed  that  Heisenberg,  in  order  to  demonstrate  his  "principle 
of  indeterminacy,"  at  every  step  applied  the  very  same  law  of 
causation  which  he  tried  to  disprove  with  the  help  of  these 
"uncertainty  relations."  Take,  for  example,  the  "Compton- 
effect,"  upon  which  Heisenberg's  demonstration  rests;  the  im- 
pact between  light  quanta  and  electrons  makes  an  application 
of  the  law  of  causation  and  yields  experimental  results  strictly 
in  accordance  with  this  law. 


238  DIMITRY  GAWRONSKY 

Cassirer  died  less  than  four  months  before  the  first  explosion 
of  the  atomic  bomb  proved  to  the  entire  civilized  world  the 
great  danger  which  lies  in  the  mere  development  of  exact 
science:  it  releases  forces  too  powerful  to  be  controlled  j  it  makes 
man  so  powerful  that  the  very  existence  of  mankind  appears  to 
be  endangered.  This  dark  prospect  reminds  us  of  the  philo- 
sophical thesis  Cassirer  defended  and  developed  all  his  life — 
that  scientific  progress  is  only  beneficial  for  man  in  so  far  as  it  is 
supported  and  guided  by  equally  as  vigorous  progress  of  man's 
ethical,  spiritual,  cultural,  and  social  life. 

DIMITRY  GAWRONSKY 

NEW  YORK  CITY 


6 

Harold  R.  Smart 

CASSIRER'S  THEORY  OF  MATHEMATICAL 
CONCEPTS 


CASSIRER'S  THEORY  OF  MATHEMATICAL 
CONCEPTS 

IN  AN  important  article  in  Kantstudien  (XII,  1907),  en- 
titled "Kant  und  die  moderne  Mathematik,"  Cassirer 
makes  an  assertion  which  throws  much  light  on  his  theory  of 
mathematical  concepts.  He  declares  that  "it  cannot  be  denied 
that  cLogistik'  [i.e.,  symbolic  or  mathematical  logic]  has  revivi- 
fied formal  logic,  and  .  .  .  nourished  it  anew  with  the  life  blood 
of  science."  And  this  development,  he  continues,  is  of  great  sig- 
nificance with  respect  to  Kantian  doctrines.  Although  it  is  cer- 
tainly true  that  symbolic  logic  "can  never  supplant  or  replace 
'transcendental'  logic,"  it  is  equally  certain  that  formal  logic 
as  thus  rejuvenated  "offers  more  pregnant  suggestions  and 
affords  more  trustworthy  'guiding  threads'  than  Kant  possessed 
in  the  traditional  logic  of  his  time." 

This  statement  clearly  foreshadows  one  of  the  principal 
tasks  Cassirer  set  himself  early  in  his  career,  which  he  has 
attempted  to  carry  through  by  means  of  his  profound  and  criti- 
cal study  of  the  history  of  mathematics  in  its  relations  both  with 
philosophy  and  with  the  other  sciences,  from  the  earliest  times 
down  to  the  immediate  present.  That  it  is  a  truly  formidable 
undertaking  thus  to  seek  to  preserve  and  reinterpret  the  tran- 
scendental logic  of  Kant  in  such  a  way  as  finally  to  bring  it  into 
good  and  fruitful  accord  with  recent  tendencies  in  formal  sym- 
bolic logic  and  mathematics,  will  readily  be  admitted.  Indeed, 
it  is  not  going  too  far  to  say  that  most  authorities  would  at  the 
very  outset  declare  that  purpose  to  be  one  which  could  not 
possibly  be  realized  5  so  far  apart  are  Kantian  doctrines — at 
least  as  usually  presented — and  those  of  most  contemporary 
logicians  and  mathematicians,  that,  like  oil  and  water,  they 
simply  cannot  be  made  to  mix. 

241 


242  HAROLD  R.  SMART 

Did  not  Kant  firmly  declare  that  concepts  without  percepts 
are  empty ;  was  it  not  his  settled  doctrine  that  mathematical 
judgments  are  synthetic  a  priori;  did  he  not  maintain,  at  least 
in  the  "transcendental  aesthetic,"  that  mathematics  is  possible 
as  a  science  only  because  space  and  time  are  pure  forms  of  intui- 
tion or  pure  intuitions}  was  it  not  in  particular  his  thesis  that 
mathematical  inference  proceeds  by  means  of  Constructions' 
which  must  be  either  directly  intuitable  in  actual  space,  or 
clearly  imaginable?  Taking  these  and  kindred  doctrines  into 
account,  is  it  not  the  consensus  of  authoritative  commentators 
that  Kant  deceived  himself  both  in  underestimating  the  revo- 
lutionary character  of  his  contributions  to  logic,  and  in  cherish- 
ing the  belief  that  the  validity  of  the  main  tenets  of  formal 
logic  was  unimpaired  thereby?  And  finally,  do  not  contempo- 
rary symbolic  logicians  and  mathematicians,  with  one  unani- 
mous voice,  sharply  oppose  every  one  of  those  typical  Kantian 
doctrines  and  assertions? 

Initially  improbable  though  success  in  such  a  venture  might 
seem,  however,  Cassirer  does  not  shrink  from  facing  coura- 
geously all  of  the  tremendous  difficulties  it  involves;  and  what- 
ever may  be  one's  final  judgment  in  the  matter,  all  hands  will 
readily  agree  that,  quite  apart  from  his  success  or  failure  in  this 
particular  regard,  his  own  positive  doctrines  stand  forth  as  of 
intrinsic  worth  on  their  own  account.  It  soon  becomes  clear, 
indeed,  to  Cassirer's  readers,  that  one  has  to  do  with  no  slavish 
disciple  of  any  of  the  traditional  lines  of  thought.  The  historical 
and  critical  studies  so  assiduously  pursued  are  by  no  means 
ends  in  themselves,  but  serve  rather  as  most  carefully  selected 
source  material  for  constructive  philosophical  undertakings  of 
the  most  significant  and  original  sort.  Such  being  the  case,  it  is 
to  be  expected  that  the  materials  supplied  in  this  way  will  be 
handled  with  the  greatest  freedom  and  boldness,  and  that,  as 
finally  presented,  Cassirer's  doctrines  will  frequently  diverge 
more  or  less  widely  from  their  anterior  sources  of  inspiration. 

Take,  for  example,  the  concept  of  number — the  concept 
which  Cassirer  significantly  declares  to  be  not  merely  basic  to 
the  special  science  of  mathematics  but  "the  first  and  truest 


THEORY  OF  MATHEMATICAL  CONCEPTS      243 

expression  of  rational  method  in  general."1  Although  critics 
frequently  charge  Kant  with  basing  this  concept  upon  the  pure 
intuition  of  time,  this  is  true,  so  Cassirer  avers,  only  in  so  far  as 
time  appears  as  "the  type  of  ordered  sequence"  as  such.  In 
Kant's  own  words, 

the  pure  image  ...  of  all  objects  of  the  senses  in  general  is  time.  But  the 
pure  schema  of  quantity,  in  so  far  as  it  is  a  concept  of  the  understanding, 
is  number,  a  representation  which  combines  the  successive  addition  of  one 
to  one  (homogeneous).  Thus  number  is  nothing  but  the  unity  of  the 
synthesis  of  the  manifold  of  a  homogeneous  intuition  in  general — a 
unity  due  to  the  fact  that  I  generate  time  itself  in  the  apprehension  of 
the  intuition.2 

As  Cassirer  sees  it,  however,  further  development  of  this 
doctrine  has  followed  two  very  different  directions,  the  one 
emphasizing  the  active  'understanding'  and  the  process  of 
creative  synthesis,  the  other  stressing  the  passive  'sensibility' 
and  irrational  intuition. 

The  latter  alternative  is  that  adopted,  for  example,  by  most 
varieties  of  empiricism,  and  by  intuitionism,  and  it  naturally 
conforms  best  to  the  traditional  formal  logic  of  the  generic 
concept — i.e.,  the  logic  which  regards  the  concept  as  a  common 
element  abstracted  from  a  class  of  particulars.8  Against  all  three 
of  these  lines  of  thought — empiricism,  intuitionism,  and  the 
subject-predicate  logic — Cassirer  brings  to  bear  a  devastating 
criticism,  supported  by  profuse  historical  evidence.  These  his- 
torical and  epistemological  studies  demonstrate  convincingly 
that  in  terms  of  no  one,  nor  of  any  combination  of  the  three, 
can  Kant's  question  as  to  the  'possibility'  of  the  science  of  pure 
mathematics  be  answered  at  all  satisfactorily. 

There  remains,  then,  for  further  consideration,  what  Cassirer 
regards  as  the  only  other  genuine  alternative,  namely  the 
postulation  of  the  creative  synthesis  of  the  pure  understanding 

1  Substance  and  Function,  Eng.  transl.,  26. 

8  Translation  quoted  from  N.  Kemp  Smith's  Commentary  to  Kant's  Critique  of 
Pure  Reason^  2nd  ed.,  129.  Cassirer  makes  a  similar  gloss  on  Kant's  notion  of  space 
with  reference  to  geometry. 

3  Philosophie  der  symbolischen  Formen,  Ch.  Ill,  402!. 


244  HAROLD  R.  SMART 

as  the  absolutely  essential  epistemological  and  logical  prius, 
upon  which  the  possibility  of  number  in  particular  and  of 
mathematics  in  general  must  depend.  In  Kantian  language,  the 
synthetic  activity  of  knowing  is  a  process  of  generating  relations 
— i.e.,  to  know  is  to  relate}  and  to  relate,  so  Cassirer  continues, 
is  to  introduce  order  into  a  'manifold'  or  series;  and  serial  order, 
in  this  precise  sense  of  the  word,  finds  its  first  and  fundamental 
expression  in  the  series  of  ordinal  numbers.  Logical  or  critical 
idealism  maintains,  in  short,  that  there  is  nothing  more  ultimate 
for  thought  than  thinking  itself,  and  thinking  consists  essen- 
tially in  the  positing  of  relations  (das  Beziehungssetzen). 

From  this  point  of  view,  Cassirer  declares,  "number  appears 
not  merely  as  a  production  of  pure  thought,  but  actually  as  its 
prototype  and  origin  ...  as  the  primary  and  original  act  of 
thought, "  which  all  further  scientific  and  logical  thinking 
presupposes.4  In  this  pregnant  sense  of  the  word,  number  is, 
indeed,  the  "schema"  of  serial  order  in  general,  the  "ideal 
axis,"  so  to  speak,  about  which  thought  organizes  its  world. 
Pythagoreanism  erred  only  in  its  too  enthusiastic  identification 
of  number  with  the  whole  truth,  with  the  entire  system  of  ideal 
relations  constitutive  of  reality.  Only  "after  we  have  conceived 
the  plan  of  this  system  in  a  general  logical  theory  of  rela- 
tions," whereby  the  members  of  a  series  may  be  variously 
ordered — for  example,  "according  to  equality  and  inequality, 
number  and  magnitude,  spatial  and  temporal  relations,  .  .  . 
causal  dependence,"  and  the  like — can  we  ascribe  to  the  several 
sciences  their  true  epistemological  import  as  so  many  progres- 
sively successful  applications  of  this  logical  theory  to  the  data 
of  experience.5 

In  further  elucidation  and  development  of  this  thesis — 
which  is  perhaps  more  accurately  and  directly  anticipated  by 
the  Cartesian-Leibnizian  theory  of  a  mathesls  universalis  than 
it  is  by  the  Kantian  transcendental  logic — Cassirer  refers,  on 
the  one  hand,  to  the  so-called  calculus  of  relations  as  recently 
worked  out  by  the  symbolic  logicians,  and,  on  the  other  hand, 
to  the  relevant  stages  in  the  origination  and  subsequent  history 


THEORY  OF  MATHEMATICAL  CONCEPTS      245 

of  such  basic  mathematical  concepts  as  those  of  number  and 
space. 

The  main  purpose  of  the  critical  study  of  the  history  of 
mathematics  is  to  illustrate  and  confirm  the  special  thesis  that 
ordinal  number  is  logically  prior  to  cardinal  number,  and,  more 
generally,  that  mathematics  may  be  defined,  in  Leibnizian 
fashion,  as  the  science  of  order,  Cassirer's  readers  do  not  need 
to  be  told  how  impressive  in  both  amount  and  quality  is  the 
historical  evidence  he  adduces  in  support  of  these  tenets,  nor 
how  great  is  the  skill  with  which  he  marshalls  his  interpretative 
expositions  to  the  same  end. 

As  Cassirer  is  no  doubt  well  aware,  however,  other  authori- 
ties, among  them  some  as  critical  of  mere  empiricism  as  he  him- 
self is,  differ  sharply  with  this  interpretation  of  the  same 
historical  data,  and  at  least  two  other  plausible  alternatives  have 
been  ably  presented,  namely  the  exactly  opposite  thesis  that 
cardinal  number  is  logically  prior  to  ordinals,  and  the  perhaps 
even  more  inviting  thesis  that  cardinal  and  ordinal  are  strictly 
complementary  aspects  of  number,  neither  of  which  can  claim 
priority  over  the  other.  Thus  it  seems  rather  unwise  to  place 
too  much  confidence  in  any  one  interpretation,  unless  indeed 
weighty  evidence  of  another  sort  can  be  marshalled  in  support 
of  one  of  the  three,  which  cannot  be  matched  in  favor  of  either 
or  both  of  the  others. 

And  of  what  sort  can  such  evidence  be?  Not  of  any  epistemo- 
logical  variety,  it  would  seemj  for  to  ground  an  historical 
interpretation  on  an  epistemological  theory,  and  then  to  claim 
that  the  interpretation  confirms  the  theory,  is  hardly  justifiable 
at  the  bar  of  logic.  As  for  the  logical  evidence,  Cassirer  himself 
concedes  that  order  "does  not  exhaust  the  whole  content  of  the 
concept  of  number.)>tt  A  "new  aspect,"  he  declares,  "appears  as 
soon  as  number,  which  has  hitherto  been  deduced  as  a  purely 
logical  sequence  of  intellectual  constructs,  is  understood  and 
applied  as  an  expression  of  flwratity" 

But  when — the  question  almost  asks  itself — is  it  not  so 
understood  and  applied?  Certainly  many  unbiassed  witnesses 
are  prepared  to  answer,  in  no  uncertain  voice,  that  it  functions 

6  Substance  and  Function,  41. 


246  HAROLD  R.  SMART 

in  this  sense  from  the  very  beginning.  Nay,  testimony  on  this 
point  is  well-nigh  universal  to  the  effect  that  'in  the  beginning' 
was  simple  counting,  a  process  resting  directly  on  the  concept 
of  cardinal  number.  And,  as  far  as  contemporary  logic  is  con- 
cerned, an  able  expositor  of  the  doctrines  of  Principa  Mathe- 
matica  explains,  in  terms  exactly  matching  those  used  by 
Cassirer,  but  having  a  precisely  opposite  import,  that  "two 
important  concepts"  essential  to  the  formation  of  the  series  of 
ordinal  numbers,  namely  'o5  and  'successor,'  "introduce  a  new 
idea  not  used  in  the  definition  of  cardinal  number,  namely  the 
idea  that  the  cardinal  numbers  form  a  discrete  series  of  next 
successors  beginning  with  o."7 

These  comments  are  not  offered,  however,  as  by  any  means 
indicating  a  complete  refutation  of  Cassirer's  doctrines,  but 
rather  merely  to  reveal  the  diversity  of  views  prevailing  on 
this  matter.  Epistemological  theories  apart,  it  is  tacitly  admitted 
by  all  hands  that  cardinal  and  ordinal  actually  function,  mathe- 
matically, as  complementary  to  each  other.  In  any  event, 
Cassirer  relies  more  heavily  upon  the  aforementioned  calculus 
of  relations,  than  he  does  upon  the  historical  evidence,  in  direct 
and  positive  support  of  his  theory  of  the  formation  of  mathe- 
matical concepts.  For  it  is  by  means  of  this  calculus,  so  he  avers, 
that  number  can  indeed  be  "deduced  as  a  purely  logical  se- 
quence of  intellectual  constructs."  More  specifically,  in  the 
classification  of  relations  into  transitive,  intransitive,  symmetri- 
cal, asymmetrical,  and  so  on,  Cassirer  sees,  ready  to  hand  as  it 
were,  the  perfect  instrumentality  whereby  "the  more  exact 
definition  of  what  we  are  to  understand  as  the  order  of  a  given 
whole"  is  to  be  attained.  Prior  to  this  development  the  basic 
thesis  of  critical  idealism,  namely  that  thinking  consists  in  the 
positing  or  generating  of  relations,  appeared  as  a  bare  epistemo- 
logical  postulate,  illustrated,  and  even,  if  you  please,  in  a  sense 
confirmed  by  the  history  of  scientific  thought,  but  all  the  while 
lacking  its  fundamental  logical  articulation,  its  systematic  expo- 
sition and  confirmation.  In  particular,  to  Bertrand  Russell  and 
his  colleagues  Cassirer  gratefully  attributes  the  epochal  dis- 

T  Eaton,  General  Logic,  468. 


THEORY  OF  MATHEMATICAL  CONCEPTS      247 

covery  "that  it  is  always  some  transitive  and  asymmetrical  rela- 
tion that  is  necessary  to  imprint  on  the  members  of  a  whole  a 
determinate  order."8 

From  this  point  of  view,  numbers — ordinal  numbers,  that  is 
— stand  forth  as  "a  system  of  ideal  objects  whose  whole  content 
is  exhausted  in  their  mutual  relations."  In  such  a  system, 
Cassirer  maintains,  the  'what'  of  the  elements  is  disregarded, 
and  merely  the  'how'  of  a  certain  progressive  connection  is 
taken  into  account.  Here,  in  short,  is 

a  general  procedure  which  is  of  decisive  significance  for  the  whole  for- 
mation of  mathematical  concepts.  For  whenever  a  system  of  conditions 
is  given  that  can  be  realized  in  different  contents,  then  we  can  hold  to 
the  form  of  the  system  itself  as  invariant,  undisturbed  by  the  difference 
of  contents,  and  develop  its  laws  deductively.9 

This  state  of  affairs  is  as  clearly  evident  in  geometry  as  it 
is  in  the  science  of  number.  Mathematical  space  may  be  defined, 
in  Leibnizian  terminology,  as  an  "order  of  coexistence."  Geo- 
metricians may  still  talk  of  points,  straight  lines,  and  planes  5 
but  in  the  course  of  time  these  familiar  objects  have  become 
divested  of  all  intuitive  content,  and  all  connection  between 
these  elements  is  developed  deductively  from  purely  con- 
ceptual definitions.  The  relation  expressed  by  the  word  'be- 
tween,' for  example,  though  seemingly  possessing  an  irreducible 
sensuous  connotation,  has  nevertheless  been  freed  from  this 
narrow  restriction,  and  is  now  determined,  mathematically, 
solely  by  means  of  definite  logical  prescriptions,  which  alone 
endow  it  with  the  meaning  it  possesses  in  the  deductive  pro- 
cedure of  mathematics.  In  other  words,  according  to  Cassirer, 
it  is  always  and  everywhere  "the  relational  structure  as  such," 
rather  than  any  absolute  properties  of  the  elements  entering 
into  the  structure,  which  constitutes  the  real  'object'  of  mathe- 
matical investigation.  The  particular  elements  entering  into 
any  deductive  complex  of  relations, 

are  not  viewed  according  to  what  they  are  in  and  for  themselves,  but 

*  Substance  and  Function,  38. 
9 


248  HAROLD  R.  SMART 

simply  as  examples  of  a  certain  universal  form  of  order  and  connection; 
mathematics  . .  .  recognizes  in  them  no  other  'being'  than  that  belonging 
to  them  by  participation  in  this  form.  For  it  is  only  this  being  that  enters 
into  proof,  into  the  process  of  inference,  and  is  thus  accessible  to  the  full 
certainty,  that  mathematics  gives  its  objects.10 

Thus  the  fundamental  work  of  the  science  does  not  con- 
sist, for  example,  in  comparing,  dividing,  and  compounding 
specific  given  magnitudes,  but  rather  "in  isolating  the  generat- 
ing relations  themselves,  upon  which  all  possible  determination 
of  magnitude  rests,  and  in  determining  the  mutual  connection 
of  these  relations."  Although  it  may  be  true,  psychologically 
speaking,  that  the  meaning  of  a  relation  can  only  be  grasped 
by  means  of  some  given  terms  which  thus  serve  as  its  material 
basis,  still  (Cassirer  insists)  the  logical  import  of  the  relation 
is  wholly  independent  of  any  such  origin,  and  is  the  resultant 
of  a  purely  rational  and  deductive  procedure.  To  put  the  point 
in  terminology  long  since  familiar  to  British  and  American 
philosophers,  Cassirer  apparently  concurs  in  the  doctrine  that 
relations  are  prior  to,  and  independent  of,  or  'external*  to 
their  terms. 

On  the  logical  plane,  therefore,  it  seems  that  Cassirer  simply 
appropriates  for  his  own  purposes  and  construes  in  his  own 
fashion  that  special  portion  of  formal  symbolic  logic  having  to 
do  with  relations,  in  abstraction  from  other  branches  of  the 
subject, — towards  which,  indeed,  he  manifests,  on  occasion, 
considerable  opposition.  With  respect  to  this  state  of  affairs  the 
following  points  naturally  suggest  themselves  for  discussion. 

The  first  of  these  points,  put  in  the  form  of  a  question,  is: 
What  becomes  of  Kant's  doctrine  of  the  categories,  in  the  light 
of  the  significance  Cassirer  attaches  to  the  calculus  of  relations? 
Partly  by  explicit  statement,  partly  by  plain  implication,  the 
answer  is  that  that  doctrine  is  completely  nullified.  For,  as  a 
little  reflection  will  suffice  to  show,  it  is  quite  impossible  to 
reconcile  the  basic  thesis  of  Kant's  transcendental  logic  that  the 
categories  are  functional  forms  of  relationship  immanent  in 
scientific  knowledge  as  embodied  in  synthetic  judgments,  with 


THEORY  OF  MATHEMATICAL  CONCEPTS      249 

the  thesis  advanced  by  Cassirer  that  the  "generating  relations" 
productive  of  "serial  order"  are  logically  prior  to,  and  inde- 
pendent of  their  terms,  and  purely  ideal  in  nature.  This  is,  in 
short,  entirely  to  abandon  the  Kantian  conception  of  the  a  priori, 
and  to  revert,  instead,  to  that  of  Leibniz. 

Now  it  would  be  a  natural  though  a  serious  error  to  assume 
that  this  point  concerns  only  students  of  Kant  and  Leibniz,  and 
that  it  is  without  intrinsic  importance  for  anyone  who  is  simply 
trying  to  understand  contemporary  mathematics.  For  to  follow 
Cassirer  in  this  respect  is  definitely  to  play  into  the  hands  of 
those  formalists  who  see  in  mathematics  not  a  genuine  science 
among  others,  but  a  mere  extension  and  elaboration  of  formal 
logic — is  to  rededicate  oneself  to  that  very  abstract  rationalism 
which  Kant  did  so  much  to  overthrow.  In  fact,  it  almost  seems 
as  if  preoccupation  with  the  sins  and  omissions  of  a  one-sided 
empiricism  had  induced  Cassirer,  against  his  own  better  judg- 
ment, to  adopt  the  opposite  extreme,  even  in  the  face  of  Kant's 
convincing  demonstration  that  such  a  one-sided  rationalism  is 
just  as  untenable. 

This  interpretation  of  Cassirer's  position  gains  further  con- 
firmation by  a  closer  examination  of  his  attitude  of  acceptance 
towards  the  calculus  of  relations.  In  view  of  his  just  and  pene- 
trating criticism  of  other  parts  and  aspects  of  the  doctrines  of  the 
symbolic  logicians  (to  be  touched  upon  later  in  this  essay),  his 
exemption  of  this  particular  calculus  from  the  force  of  those 
criticisms  can  only  be  explained  as  due  to  certain  inherently 
formalistic  tendencies  in  his  own  thought.  That  is  to  say,  it  is 
not,  in  the  last  analysis,  with  abstract  formalism  in  logic  and 
mathematics  as  such,  but  rather  merely  with  certain  specific 
features  and  portions  of  that  formalism,  that  Cassirer  finds  him- 
self in  disagreement.  Otherwise  he  would  readily  perceive,  for 
example,  that,  since  the  calculus  of  relations  is  in  many  essential 
respects  strictly  analogous  to  the  calculus  of  classes — a  fact  to 
which  attention  is  explicitly  called  by  the  highest  authorities — 
the  charge  of  circularity  which  he  so  acutely  brings  against  this 
latter  calculus  also  applies,  mutatis  mutandis^  to  the  former.  If 
the  derivation  of  cardinal  numbers  from  classes  be  condemned 
as  circular  reasoning,  then,  for  strictly  analogous  reasons,  the 


250  HAROLD  R.  SMART 

derivation  of  ordinal  numbers  from  relations  must  be  circular 
also;  and  if,  on  the  contrary,  the  latter  can  be  successfully  de- 
fended against  such  a  charge,  then,  again  for  strictly  analogous 
reasons,  so  can  the  former.11  Since,  however,  Cassirer  simply 
contents  himself  with  laying  down  the  general  thesis,  and  no- 
where undertakes  such  an  explicit  derivation  on  his  own  account, 
it  is  impossible  to  justify  this  contention  further  by  a  critical 
study  of  details. 

What  still  further  complicates  matters  here,  and  beclouds 
the  specific  issue  in  question,  is  the  fact  that  Cassirer  envisages 
the  issue  as  one  ultimately  involving  a  conflict  between  "the 
logic  of  the  generic  (or  class)  concept"  and  "the  logic  of  the 
relational  concept."  As  he  sees  it,  "if  the  attempt  to  derive  the 
concept  of  number  from  that  of  a  class  were  successful,  the 
traditional  form  of  logic  would  gain  a  new  source  of  confirma- 
tion. The  ordering  of  individuals  into  the  hierarchy  of  species 
would  be,  now  as  before,  the  true  goal  of  all  knowledge.  .  .  ,"12 

But  surely  this  antithesis  between  the  two  species  of  concepts 
is  not  as  definitive  as  the  preceding  statement  implies.  As  good 
a  historian  of  science  as  Cassirer  does  not  need  to  be  told  of  the 
inherently  important,  if  largely  subsidiary,  role  which  classifi- 
cation as  a  matter  of  fact  does  play,  even  in  such  an  abstract 
science  as  mathematics.  Granting  that  "the  ordering  of  indi- 
viduals into  the  hierarchy  of  species"  is  not  the  "true  goal"  of 
any  science,  still  it  is  quite  impossible  to  deny  that  classification 
does  represent  a  most  useful  and  perfectly  legitimate  scientific 
procedure,  or  that  it  is  explicitly  recognized  as  such  by  scientists 
and  logicians.  If  'to  relate/  in  the  widest  possible  sense  of  the 
word,  be  taken  to  mean  what  Kant  meant  by  it,  namely,  not 
merely  to  establish  order  in  a  series,  but,  more  generally,  'to 
organize  into  a  system,'  then  may  not  a  class  be  construed  as  a 
rudimentary  kind  of  a  system,  and  may  not  classification  itself 
be  looked  upon  as  a  kind  of  relating?  For  that  matter,  no  small 
part  of  the  business  of  the  very  calculus  of  relations  itself  con- 
sists in  classifying  relations  into  a  hierarchy,  and  determining 

11  See,  on  this  whole  question,  the  illuminating  discussion,  in  Ch.  V,  of  Lewis 
and  Langford's  Symbolic  Logic. 

12  Substance  and  Function^  53. 


THEORY  OF  MATHEMATICAL  CONCEPTS      251 

the  differentiae  of  the  various  species  and  sub-species  of  re- 
lations. Thus  little  indeed  would  be  left  of  the  calculus,  if  the 
'logic  of  the  generic  concept'  were  to  be  rejected  as  entirely 
unsound. 

In  view  of  such  considerations,  Cassirer  will  find  many  sup- 
porters for  his  strictures  on  the  logic  of  the  generic  concept  who 
will  yet  not  feel  inclined  to  follow  him  all  the  way  in  denying 
to  it  any  epistemological  value  whatsoever  and  thus  leaving  the 
logic  of  the  relational  concept  in  sole  possession  of  the  field. 
But  for  students  of  Kant  there  is  a  still  more  fundamental  con- 
sideration which  may  appropriately  be  emphasized  here. 

From  a  strictly  Kantian  point  of  view,  as  Norman  Kemp 
Smith  well  points  out,18  generic  and  relational  concepts,  as  here 
defined,  both  refer  to  a  distinction,  not  in  the  form,  but  in  the 
specific  content  of  knowledge.  Just  as  a  generic  concept  (or 
universal)  expresses  a  common  quality  or  qualities  to  be  ascribed 
to  each  distinguishable  element  of  a  nexus  of  complex  contents, 
so  a  relational  concept  (or  universal)  expresses  relationships 
specified  as  holding  amongst  the  elements  severally.  A  category, 
on  the  other  hand,  is  not  a  content  of  any  sort,  or  any  aspect  of 
a  content,  but  a  general  form  of  organization,  a  "function  of 
unity,"  whereby  contents  are  related  in  the  judgment.  No 
superficial  verbal  similarity  turning  upon  the  common  use  of  the 
term  'relation'  should  be  allowed  to  conceal  the  fact  that  Kant 
and  the  symbolic  logicians  are  concerned  with  two  vastly  dif- 
ferent matters,  nor  that  their  basic  logical  doctrines  are  ftinda- 
mentally  opposed  in  principle.  The  problems  Kant  wrestled 
with  in  his  transcendental  logic  are  in  large  part  simply  ignored 
by  the  symbolic  logicians,  or  handed  over  to  epistemology} 
whereas  what  the  symbolic  logicians  regard  as  basic  logical 
problems  could  scarcely  have  appeared  in  that  light  to  Kant. 

Precisely  in  this  connection,  however,  a  fundamental  episte- 
mological antithesis  or  antinomy  appears  between  the  doctrines 
of  orthodox  symbolic  logicians  and  Cassirer's  critical  idealism. 
For  precisely  at  this  point  certain  other  Kantian  influences  make 
themselves  most  strongly  felt  and  give  rise  both  to  a  criticism  of 
epistemological  theories  of  the  Russellian  type,  as  well  as  to  the 

**  Commentary  to  Kant's  Critique  of  Pure  Reason,  38,  178. 


252  HAROLD  R.  SMART 

application  and  development  of  an  epistemology  on  Leibnizian 
and  Kantian  lines.  Not  only  does  Cassirer  call  attention  to  the 
circularity  inevitably  involved  in  the  attempt  to  derive  cardinal 
number  from  the  concept  of  a  class,14  but  he  also  stoutly  insists 
— quite  in  the  spirit  of  Kant,  and  in  complete  opposition  to  more 
fashionable  contemporary  tenets — on  the  synthetic  character  of 
mathematical  propositions  or  judgments.  In  the  article  already 
drawn  upon,  "Kant  und  die  moderne  Mathematik,"  Cassirer 
explains  that  by  synthetic  he  means,  (a)  not  reducible  to  that 
species  of  subject-predicate  propositions,  in  which  the  predicate 
merely  explicates  the  meaning  of  the  subject  term;  (b)  not 
deducible  from  the  mere  formal  laws  of  thought;  and  (c)  the 
functional  relationship  in  which  mathematical  propositions 
stand  to  empirical  phenomena,  and,  lacking  which,  mathematical 
concepts  would  be  nothing  better  than  hollow  fictions. 

Since  points  (a)  and  (b)  are  now  conceded  by  everyone,  their 
mere  mention  seems  sufficient  here;  but  point  (c)  is  a  different 
matter.  After  the  most  elaborate  epistemological  tour  de  force 
by  which  Russell  and  his  collaborators  seek  to  convince  them- 
selves and  others  that,  although  their  absolutely  basic  "atomic 
propositions"  admittedly  stem  directly  from  sense  experience, 
nevertheless  the  world  of  logic  and  mathematics,  as  such,  in  its 
unsullied  purity,  is  a  transcendent  realm,  they  can  only  account 
it  a  "lucky  accident,"  which  might  just  as  well  have  been  other- 
wise, that  the  propositions  of  logic  and  mathematics  apply  to  the 
realm  of  physical  phenomena.  In  other  words,  the  two  realms 
having  been  severed  so  completely  by  those  thinkers,  Cassirer 
points  out  that  it  is  actually  an  epistemological  and  logical  im- 
possibility to  establish  any  real  connection  between  them.  As 
Cassirer  sees  it,  on  the  other  hand,  the  objectivity  of  scientific 
knowledge  of  phenomena  is  guaranteed  precisely  by  virtue  of 
the  "synthetic  unity  of  the  concept" — to  use  an  appropriate 
Kantian  phrase — whose  sole  function  is  to  introduce  order 
into  the  ideal  'manifolds'  of  mathematics,  and,  through  them, 
in  turn,  into  the  experiential  manifolds  of  the  spatio-temporal 
world  of  physics. 

*  Substance  and  Function,  Ch.  II,  sec.  iiij  see  also  Smart,  The  Philosophical 
Presuppositions  of  Mathematical  Logic,  Ch.  VI. 


THEORY  OF  MATHEMATICAL  CONCEPTS      253 

Thus,  to  take  a  simple  example,  Cassirer  maintains  that 
thought  follows  a  straight,  undeviating  path,  in  proceeding 
from  the  logical  calculus  of  relations,  to  such  a  special  type  of 
generating  relation  as  is  compactly  symbolized  by  the  general 
algebraic  equation  of  the  second  degree,  from  which,  in  turn, 
every  species  of  conic  section — circle,  ellipse,  parabola,  etc. — 
may  be  deductively  derived.  And  this  same  mathematical  con- 
cept of  the  conic  section  it  is  which  alone  enables  the  natural 
scientist  to  introduce  order  or  synthetic  unity  into  the  manifold 
of  astronomical  phenomena,  thus  making  possible  knowledge 
of  those  phenomena  which  is  at  once  objective  and  systematic. 
Only  in  this  wise,  so  Cassirer  declares  in  a  pregnant  passage, 

only  when  we  clearly  understand  that  the  same  basic  syntheses  upon 
which  logic  and  mathematics  depend,  also  control  the  formation  of  ex- 
periential knowledge,  thereby  for  the  first  time  making  it  possible  to 
speak  of  the  ordering  of  phenomena  according  to  scientific  laws  and 
thus  to  ascribe  objective  meaning  to  these  phenomena,  is  the  true  justifica- 
tion of  those  principles  attained.15 

Nor  is  this  by  any  means  the  end  of  the  matter.  Not  only  are 
single  concepts  and  judgments  thus  synthetic,  but  the  whole 
process  of  deduction,  characteristic  of  mathematical  inference, 
is  itself  progressive,  productive  of  new  knowledge.  In  this  re- 
spect also  Cassirer  opposes  the  essentially  static  ideal  of  logic 
and  mathematics  fostered  by  the  symbolic  logicians,  in  their 
thesis  that  the  propositions  of  these  sciences  are  analytic  or 
tautological,  and  also  in  their  complementary  doctrine  that 
deduction  is  a  mere  re-arranging  of  the  elements  of  discourse  in 
accordance  with  fixed  rules  of  procedure.  Epistemologically 
speaking,  this  doctrine  becomes  the  thesis  that  thought  merely 
'discovers'  relationships  eternally  'there,'  subsisting  in  that 
transcendent  realm  which  reveals  itself  to  a  critical  inspection 
to  be  nothing  but  the  naive  hypostatization  of  certain  logical  and 
mathematical  concepts,  and  their  consequent  deprivation  of  any 
objective  meaning  or  truth. 

Now  according  to  Cassirer  this  ideal  of  mathematical  knowl- 
edge is  not  only  self -contradictory  j  it  directly  conflicts  with  the 

15  "Kant  und  die  moderne  Mathematik,"  Kantstudien,  vol.  XII,  45  (1907). 


254  HAROLD  R.  SMART 

plainest  possible  evidence,  namely,  the  progressive  character 
which  the  long  history  of  that  science  reveals  as  its  most  out- 
standing feature.  Every  important  advance  in  mathematics, 
from  the  earliest  times  down  to  the  immediate  present,  involves 
both  an  extension  and  a  deepening  or  enrichment  of  funda- 
mental concepts,  and  their  progressive  liberation  from  what 
have  conclusively  shown  themselves  to  be  extraneous  sensuous 
connotations.  "Just  as  the  field  of  rational  numbers  is  broadened 
by  gradual  steps  of  thought  into  the  continuous  totality  of  real 
numbers,  so,  by  a  series  of  intellectual  transformations,  does  the 
space  of  sense  pass  into  the  infinite,  continuous,  homogeneous 
and  conceptual  space  of  geometry  . .  ,"16 — illustrative  examples 
which  could  be  repeated  ad  nauseam  in  confirmation  of  this 
view  of  the  continuing  'creative  advance'  of  mathematical 
thought. 

Hence  arises  for  Cassirer  a  question  which  the  symbolic  logi- 
cians, in  their  blindness,  blandly  ignore,  namely  how  is  this 
creative  advance  possible  j  how,  in  epistemological  terms,  can 
it  be  justified  to  reason,  and  how,  more  precisely,  is  it  to  be 
described? 

In  the  case  of  the  physical  sciences  answers  to  such  questions 
are  comparatively  easy  to  come  by,  the  only  difficult  logical 
problem  being  that  of  the  closer  determination  of  the  nature  of 
induction.  But  in  common  with  many,  perhaps  most  contempo- 
rary logicians,  Cassirer  denies  a  role  to  induction  in  the  mathe- 
matical sciences.  True,  he  apparently  does  not  share  the  vulgar 
prejudice  or  presupposition  dominating  the  thinking  of  so  many 
authorities  on  this  matter,  namely,  that  there  is  some  necessary 
connection  between  induction  and  specific  experimental  tech- 
niques confined  to  certain  natural  sciences,  so  that  it  is  dog- 
matically and  arbitrarily  settled  beforehand  that  where  there  is 
no  experimentation  of  the  sort  in  question,  neither  can  there  be 
any  induction.  Rather  Cassirer  excludes  induction  (and  an- 
alogy!) from  mathematical  inference,  on  the  ground  that, 
whereas  the  former  "proceeds  from  the  particular  to  the  uni- 
versal .  . .  [and]  attempts  to  unite  hypothetically  into  a  whole 
a  plurality  of  individual  facts  observed  as  particulars  without 

"  Substance  and  Function,  p.  106. 


THEORY  OF  MATHEMATICAL  CONCEPTS      255 

necessary  connection,"  the  latter  proceeds  always  from  "the 
law  of  connection,"  which  serves  as  "the  original  basis  by  virtue 
of  which  the  individual  case  can  be  determined  in  its  meaning." 
In  other  words,  "the  conditions  of  the  whole  system  are  pre- 
determined, and  all  specialization  can  only  be  reached  by  adding 
a  new  factor  as  a  limiting  determination  while  maintaining  these 
conditions."17  In  sum,  mathematical  inference  always  "proceeds 
from  the  properties  of  the  connection  to  those  of  the  objects 
connected,  from  the  serial  principle  to  the  members  of  the 
series,"  and  never  in  the  reverse  order. 

One  minor  but  nevertheless  interesting  point  included  in  the 
preceding  general  statement  may  appropriately  be  mentioned 
here  before  proceeding  to  a  more  detailed  study  of  this  concep- 
tion of  mathematical  inference.  The  symbolic  logicians  never 
tire  of  proclaiming  it  as  an  ideal  of  their  procedure  that  "all  of 
pure  mathematics"  can  (or  should)  be  shown  to  follow  de- 
ductively from  a  certain  set  of  primitives — primitive  or  un- 
defined ideas,  primitive  propositions  or  postulates,  and  the  like. 
Nothing  not  explicitly  included  or  provided  for  in  this  founda- 
tional  nexus  is  to  be  permitted  entry  into  the  subsequent  un- 
foldment  or  'development'  of  the  series  of  logico-mathematical 
propositions.  Otherwise  the  purely  analytical  or  tautological 
nature  of  those  propositions  might  easily  become  infected  with 
a  'synthetic'  impurity!  Cassirer,  on  the  other  hand,  realistically 
points  to  the  actual  practice  of  mathematicians,  and  shows  con- 
clusively that  their  practice  never  conforms  to  any  such  extrane- 
ously  imposed  ideal.  In  fact,  quite  the  contrary  is  the  case.  Only 
by  and  in  so  far  as  modifications  and  specifications  not  explicitly 
provided  for  or  foreseen  in  the  formulation  of  the  foundational 
nexus,  but  deliberately  introduced  at  certain  stages  as  new  facts 
or  limiting  determinations,  as  the  deduction  proceeds,  can  the 
special  cases  or  conclusions,  in  which  the  procedure  character- 
istically issues,  be  derived.  To  employ  the  same  simple  example 
utilized  earlier  in  this  exposition:  from  the  general  equation  of 
the  second  degree,  the  equations  of  such  conies  as  the  ellipse, 
the  parabola,  etc.,  could  never  be  derived  simply  by  the  ana- 
lytical 'development'  of  that  equation.  On  the  contrary,  such 

*lbid.  81,  82. 


256  HAROLD  R.  SMART 

special  cases  can  be  derived  from  the  general  equation  only  by 
introducing  limitations  not  explicitly  contemplated  in  the  for- 
mulation of  that  equation,  and  not  formally  connected  with  it  in 
any  way.  In  this  sense  they  are  added  from  without,  somewhat 
as  the  minor  premise  is  added  to  the  major  premise  in  the  tra- 
ditional syllogism;  the  only  restrictions  on  this  typical  deductive 
procedure  being  such  as  are  prescribed  by  the  basic  laws  of 
thought  themselves. 

This  is  not,  however,  the  major  factor  in  mathematical  de- 
duction. It  will  be  recalled  that  one  main  epistemological  thesis 
of  Cassirer's  critical  idealism  is  that  the  creative,  synthetic  ac- 
tivity of  thought  displays  itself  in  the  positing  or  generating 
of  relations;  and,  as  was  indicated  above,  it  is  in  terms  of  this 
thesis  that  he  construes  all  scientific  reasoning.  Thus  the  prob- 
lem of  the  'possibility'  of  mathematics,  as  one  progressive 
science  among  others,  may  be  more  definitely  characterized  as 
the  problem  of  determining  the  rationale,  the  logical  'go,'  so  to 
speak,  of  that  process  in  the  special  field  in  question. 

At  this  point  the  Kantian  doctrine  that  mathematical  reason- 
ing proceeds  by  means  of  the  'construction'  of  its  objects,  either 
in  intuition  or  imagination,  reveals  its  positive  significance  for 
Cassirer.  Not  that  he  views  the  reference  to  intuition  or  imagi- 
nation as  the  important  factor  in  that  conception;  for  what 
mathematician  does  not  realize  that  such  limitations  on  his 
creative  activity  have  long  since  been  transcended;  and  does 
not  Cassirer  himself,  on  every  appropriate  occasion,  proclaim 
the  liberation  of  mathematics  from  reliance  on  sensuous  or  per- 
ceptual guides  as  one  of  the  greatest  intellectual  triumphs  of 
recent  times?  Rather  what  on  this  view  is  of  permanent  worth  in 
the  Kantian  doctrine  is  the  emphasis  upon  construction  as  a  typi- 
cal mode  of  procedure;  only  the  construction  must  be  under- 
stood in  a  purely  ideal  sense,  and  as  carried  out  by  pure  thought, 
independently  of  experience.  And  here  again,  as  so  frequently 
happens,  Cassirer  turns  to  Leibniz,  rather  than  to  Kant,  for 
further  insight,  for  more  positive  guidance,  in  developing  his 
own  ideas.  To  put  it  very  briefly,  it  is  by  means  of  what  Leibniz 
called  real,  causal,  or  genetic  definitions,  that,  according  to  Cas- 
sirer, the  ideal  constructions  characteristic  of  mathematical  de- 


THEORY  OF  MATHEMATICAL  CONCEPTS      257 

duction  are  carried  through.  Such  definitions,  which  Cassirer 
regards  as  perhaps  the  most  striking  exemplification  of  the  pro- 
ductivity of  thought,  serve  in  effect  as  rules  or  laws  for  the 
construction  of  specific  mathematical  objects,  or  complexes  of 
such  objects.  For  the  traditional  definition  of  a  circle,  for  ex- 
ample, in  terms  of  genus,  species,  and  differentia,  Leibniz  would 
substitute  a  definition  revealing  its  "mode  of  generation,"  and 
similarly  for  the  definition  of  parallel  lines  and  of  all  such 
mathematical  constructs. 

No  doubt  these  and  the  other  specimens  Leibniz  offers  of 
this  type  of  definition  are  rather  too  elementary,  too  empirical, 
to  be  wholly  convincing  as  samples  of  purely  ideal  construc- 
tions ;  but  Cassirer  maintains  that  the  principle  involved  can 
easily  be  generalized  in  such  a  way  as  to  bring  out  its  full  sig- 
nificance.18 At  all  events,  in  presenting  his  proposed  new  type  of 
definition,  Cassirer  points  out  that  Leibniz  envisaged  it  as  an 
instrumentality  for  combatting  two  erroneous  tendencies  preva- 
lent in  the  logical  theories  of  his  time,  tendencies,  which,  as 
Cassirer  maintains,  still  confuse  fundamental  issues  in  con- 
temporary logic. 

The  first  of  these  tendencies  is  nominalism — the  Hobbesian 
doctrine  that  all  definitions  are  merely  nominal.  It  needs  no 
citing  of  names  to  confirm  the  fact  that  this  doctrine  is  enthu- 
siastically fostered  by  many  logicians  of  the  present  time.  And 
nominalism  in  this  respect  inevitably  leads  on  to  the  sweeping 
conclusion  that  mathematics  in  its  entirety  is  nothing  but  a  sym- 
bolic technique,  a  manipulation  of  conventional  symbols,  which 
as  such  is  devoid  of  objective  import,  and  in  respect  to  which  it  is 
nonsense  to  talk  of  truth.  The  "freedom"  of  mathematics  is 
hereby  purchased  at  the  heavy  expense  of  its  renunciation  of  all 
claims  to  yielding  knowledge  of  the  real  world.  Consistency  in 
the  formulation  and  application  of  conventional  rules  of  an 
empty  symbolism  is  all  that  remains. 

The  second  erroneous  tendency  is  in  a  sense  antithetical  to  the 
preceding,  in  that  it  hypostatizes  ideas,  endows  them  with  a 

lf  See  the  article,  "Kant  und  die  moderne  Mathematik,"  and  also  Leibniz*  System 
in  semen  wissenschaftlichen  Grundlageny  108  ff.,  and  Pkilosofhie  der  symbolischen 
Formen,  Pt.  HI,  Ch.  IV. 


258  HAROLD  R.  SMART 

quasi-ontological  status,  and  attributes  to  them  'being'  in  a 
transcendent  realm  quite  apart  from  human  experience.  On  this 
view,  the  sole  test  of  the  reality  of  an  idea  is  its  abstract  possi- 
bility of  being  thought  in  complete  abstraction  from  any  ques- 
tion as  to  its  actual  realization  in  experience,  its  epistemological 
functioning.  Adoption  of  this  doctrine  commits  one  to  the  'copy' 
theory  of  truth,  reduces  thought  to  the  role  of  a  passive  spec- 
tator, and  sets  up  an  impassable  barrier,  a  dualism,  between  the 
world  of  ideas  and  the  factual  world — between  truths  of  reason 
and  truths  of  matter  of  fact.  Finally  it  should  be  emphasized 
that  neither  of  these  tendencies  has  anything  to  do  with  the 
actual  science  of  mathematics  as  such,  but  is  instead  the  product, 
pure  and  simple,  of  abstract,  gratuitously  a  priori  theorizing. 

Thus,  according  to  Leibniz's  distinguished  commentator  and 
disciple,  these  two  equally  untenable  lines  of  thought,  far  from 
providing  a  satisfactory  foundation  for  the  formation  of  mathe- 
matical concepts,  succeed  only  in  setting  up  an  empty  scaffolding 
of  formal  consistency  and  abstract  possibility.  Through  the 
instrumentality  of  the  causal  or  genetic  definition,  on  the  other 
hand,  thought  can  produce  out  of  its  own  creative,  synthetic 
resources,  all  that  is  so  conspicuously  lacking  in  the  rejected 
doctrines — such  at  least  is  Cassirer's  profound  conviction.  To 
define  the  circle — to  revert  to  this  simple  example — as  a  plain 
curve,  so  constituted  that  it  encloses  a  maximum  area  within  a 
given  perimeter,  is  merely  a  matter  of  words,  which  leaves  it 
doubtful  whether  there  actually  be  such  a  curve;  and,  even  in 
case  this  question  can  be  answered  affirmatively,  it  still  remains 
open  to  doubt  whether  the  prescribed  condition  be  fulfilled  by 
just  the  one  sort  of  curve.  Such  doubts  can  be  stilled  if  and  only 
if  a  fully  determinate  "mode  of  generation"  can  be  specified, 
and  if  the  desired  characteristics  can  be  shown  to  be  actually 
produced  by  this  mode  of  generation  by  a  rigorous  deductive 
proof.  In  this  wise,  according  to  Cassirer,  the  definition  may 
truly  be  said  to  generate  the  object  in  question  out  of  its  con- 
stituent elements.  And  what  is  true  in  this  simple  case  holds 
true  (so  Cassirer  maintains)  of  mathematics  generally.  Always 
and  everywhere  the  necessary  and  sufficient  prerequisite  to  the 
formation  of  mathematical  concepts,  and  to  the  ascription  to 


THEORY  OF  MATHEMATICAL  CONCEPTS      259 

them  of  definite  contents,  shows  itself  to  be  the  same.  What 
Cassirer  calls  a  genetic  definition  may  on  occasion  (he  points 
out)  find  more  detailed  embodiment  in  a  set  of  axioms  or 
postulates,  especially  where  not  a  specific  object  but  a  whole 
branch  of  mathematics — multi-dimensional  geometry,  the 
theory  of  groups — is  in  question.  But  in  any  case,  the  creative 
synthesis,  involving  one  or  more  elementary  structural  ele- 
ments, and  producing  out  of  these  elements,  by  means  of  the 
generating  relations  embodied  in  the  definitional  nexus,  the 
whole  contextual  content  of  the  field  in  question,  is  what  char- 
acterizes the  differentia  of  mathematical  inference  as  such. 

Now  it  can  hardly  be  denied  that  Cassirer's  criticisms  of 
fashionable  tendencies  in  contemporary  logic — such  as  the  nom- 
inalistic  theory  of  definitions,  the  thesis  that  mathematical  pro- 
positions are  analytical  or  tautological,  and  the  static  concepion 
of  deduction — are  well-founded  and  that  his  own  contrasting 
views  on  these  matters  are  much  nearer  the  truth.  His  basic 
contention,  moreover,  that  mathematics  is  a  progressive  science, 
sharing  with  the  other  sciences  the  common  search  for,  and  at- 
tainment of  objective  knowledge,  is  one  of  those  truisms  which 
too  many  contemporaries,  in  their  over-zealous  preoccupation 
with  symbolic  techniques  as  such,  have  seemingly  lost  from 
view.  The  question  remains,  however,  whether,  on  the  basis  of 
Cassirer's  own  theory  of  the  formation  of  mathematical  con- 
cepts, the  'possibility'  of  mathematics,  in  the  sense  just  de- 
scribed, can  be  fully  accounted  for.  As  already  pointed  out,  in 
spite  of  his  opposition  to  abstract  formalism  in  certain  important 
respects,  Cassirer  nevertheless  concurs  with  such  a  line  of 
thought  in  other  equally  decisive  respects.  He  concurs,  for  ex- 
ample, in  holding  that  mathematics  is  nothing  but  a  prolonga- 
tion of  formal  logic,  differing  only  in  the  somewhat  more 
restricted  range  of  its  assertions  $  and  also  in  the  widely  preva- 
lent view  that  mathematical  inference,  unlike  inference  in  other 
fields,  is  purely  deductive  in  character.  And  these  two  doctrines 
imply  the  strictly  a  priori  character  of  the  propositions  in  both 
logic  and  mathematics,  in  the  anti-Kantian,  rationalistic  sense  of 
that  word. 

Nevertheless  a  close  study  of  such  a  work  as  Substance  and 


260  HAROLD  R.  SMART 

Function  will  reveal  highly  significant  evidence  pointing  in  an- 
other direction.  So  sincere  is  the  author's  desire  to  let  the 
historical  record  speak  for  itself,  uncolored  by  his  personal  pre- 
dilections, that  he  actually  succeeds,  to  a  remarkable  degree,  in 
allowing  that  record  to  bear  witness  directly  opposed  to  all  of 
those  formalistic  tenets.  Both  arithmetic  and  geometry,  he  is  at 
pains  to  emphasize,  developed  from  humble  beginnings  in  com- 
mon sense  experience,  and  both  numerical  and  spatial  concepts 
were  for  long  encumbered  with  all  sorts  of  sensuous  connota- 
tions. In  mathematics,  quite  as  in  the  other  sciences,  more 
general  principles  had  to  wait  upon  the  acquisition  and  analysis 
of  particular  facts;  and  the  more  general  principles,  in  turn, 
led  to  the  discovery  of  other  particular  facts,  which,  again  in 
turn,  led  to  the  formation  of  still  more  general  principles — such 
is  the  plain  historical  record,  as  faithfully  presented  by  Cassirer 
himself,  there  for  all  who  have  eyes  to  read.  Yet  in  every  other 
science  this  doubly  reciprocal  relationship  between  particulars 
and  universals  is  held  to  exemplify  and  to  depend  upon  the  co- 
operative procedures  of  induction  and  deduction;  and  no  one 
more  persuasively  than  Cassirer  himself  insists  upon  the  in- 
separability of  these  two  aspects  of  scientific  inference — in  every 
other  science  except  mathematics! 

Why  the  exception?  Why  refuse  to  designate  by  the  same 
name  a  procedure  so  obviously  the  same  in  every  significant 
respect;  why  refuse  the  name  of  induction  to  a  procedure  in 
mathematics  which  would  undoubtedly  be  called  by  that  name, 
if  pursued  in  any  other  department  of  human  knowledge?  Or 
why,  save  for  some  extraordinarily  compelling  reason,  adhere 
to  or  postulate  a  theory  of  mathematical  inference  which  not 
only  runs  counter  to  the  whole  history  of  that  special  science, 
but  renders  impossible  a  consistent  logical  theory  of  scientific 
inference  in  general?  This  is  surely  a  question  definitely  de- 
manding an  answer;  a  question  that  only  stares  one  the  more 
fully  in  the  face  the  more  persistently  it  is  ignored  by  the  vast 
majority  of  logicians.  Every  logician  construes  reasoning  by 
analogy  as  an  essential  and  characteristic  instrument  of  inductive 
generalization;  histories  of  mathematics  are  full  of  examples 
of  reasoning  by  analogy;  yet  the  obvious  conclusion  is  not 


THEORY  OF  MATHEMATICAL  CONCEPTS      261 

drawn.  New  mathematical  theories  are  evolved  to  embrace  and 
systematize  under  a  set  of  common  principles  various  particular 
theorems  and  topics  hitherto  regarded  as  unrelated  or  inde- 
pendent— so  Cassirer,  like  every  other  historian,  repeatedly 
points  out.  Precisely  the  same  result  attained  in  any  other  science 
would  be  held  up  as  a  typical  product  of  inductive  reasoning} 
yet  in  the  special  case  of  mathematics  no  one  seems  to  be  willing 
to  conceive  that  it  could  possibly  call  for  a  modification  of  the 
hallowed  doctrine  that  mathematical  inference  is  purely  deduc- 
tive. Could  any  more  conspicuous  example  of  Bacon's  "Idols 
of  the  Tribe"  easily  be  found?  And — observe  well! — it  is,  in  the 
last  analysis,  precisely  and  solely  because  of  the  uncritical  ac- 
ceptance of  this  doctrine  that  certain  puzzling  (not  to  say  in- 
soluble) epistemological  problems  with  regard  to  the  nature 
and  import  of  mathematical  knowledge  rise  up  to  plague  so 
many  contemporary  logicians. 

It  would  be  grossly  unfair,  of  course,  to  criticize  Cassirer 
alone  in  this  connection;  the  point  is,  rather,  that  by  his  clear 
presentation  of  the  historical  evidence  he  supplies  all  the  requi- 
site material  to  overthrow  that  prevalent  but  one-sided  theory 
of  mathematical  inference,  which  is  actually  merely  the  conse- 
quence of  unjustified  epistemological  presuppositions,  and 
which  so  blindly  ignores  such  abundant  and  conclusive  evidence 
to  the  contrary. 

What  these  presuppositions  are,  and  that  they  are  indeed  un- 
justifiedj  it  will  not,  perhaps,  be  too  difficult  to  discover,  once 
attention  is  turned  in  their  direction.  At  bottom,  it  will  be  found, 
there  is  little  save  verbal  terminology,  and  sometimes  scarcely 
even  that,  to  distinguish  Cassirer's  critical  idealism  from  lines 
of  thought  he  vigorously  opposes,  so  far  as  this  important  matter 
is  concerned. 

Who,  for  example,  is  the  author  of  the  assertion  that  "the 
mathematician  need  not  concern  himself  with  the  particular 
being  or  intrinsic  nature  of  his  points,  lines,  and  planes,  ...  ;" 
on  the  contrary,  a  'point'  merely  "has  to  be  something  that  satis- 
fies our  axioms?"  Not  Cassirer,  though  (as  noted  above)  he  says 
the  same  thing  in  other  words,  but  Bertrand  Russell.19  And  who 

19  Introduction  to  Mathematical  Philosophy -,  59. 


262  HAROLD  R.  SMART 

declares  that  in  mathematics  "a  field  of  free  and  universal 
activity  is  disclosed,  in  which  thought  transcends  all  limits  of 
the  'given',"  in  that  "the  objects  which  we  consider  .  .  .  have 
only  an  ideal  being?"  Not  Bertrand  Russell,  but  Cassirer.20 
True,  according  to  Russell  thought  merely  discovers  the  sub- 
sisting essences  of  this  ideal,  trans-empirical  realm  $  whereas 
according  to  Cassirer  thought  actively  creates  those  universals, 
thus  generating  its  own  world  out  of  its  own  internal  resources. 
Nevertheless  both  thinkers  emphasize  equally  the  complete 
"liberation"  of  thought  from  all  experientially  imposed  limita- 
tions.21 

The  fact  that  Cassirer  presents  such  a  telling  criticism  of 
Russellian  epistemology,  in  this  regard,  cannot  be  allowed  to 
obscure  the  complementary  fact  that  precisely  analogous  ob- 
jections may  be  urged  against  his  own  epistemology.  Surely 
'discovery'  is  no  more  a  pure  metaphor,  as  applied  to  the  role 
of  thought  in  knowledge,  than  is  'creation.'22  In  plain  language, 
the  relation  of  mathematics  to  logic  is  equally  close,  and  the 
separation  of  mathematical  concepts  from  experience  is  equally 
complete,  whichever  metaphor  may  be  used  to  characterize  the 
actual  functioning  of  thought.  On  no  other  grounds  can  it  be 
explained  why  Cassirer  explicitly  recognizes  that  he  as  well  as 
Russell  has  to  show  how  mathematical  concepts,  originally  con- 
strued as  non-experiential  and  purely  logical  in  origin,  can  yet 
be  'applied'  so  directly  and  effectively  to  the  solution  of  em- 
pirical problems.  To  insist  upon  the  inseparability  of  mathemat- 
ics and  formal  logic  is  ipso  facto  to  cut  mathematics  off  from 
all  essential  connection  with  experience}  and  to  insist,  with 
Cassirer,  that  nevertheless  mathematical  knowledge  is  as  ob- 
jective as  all  other  scientific  knowledge,  because,  forsooth,  all 
truth  is  literally  created  by  thinking,  is  if  so  jacto  to  reduce 
scientific  truth  as  such  to  formal  consistency  within  a  closed 

80  Substance  and  Function,  112. 

81  The  hostile  critic  would  be  tempted  to  express  the  same  idea  in  rather  different 
terms,  to  the  effect  that  the  "liberation"  in  question  actually  amounts  to  a  confine- 
ment of  thought  within  the  four  walls  of  an  a  priori  formalism. 

MCf.  the  present  writer's  The  Philosophical  Presuppositions  of  Mathematical 
Logic  Chs.  Ill — VI,  on  this  point,  and  also  for  a  remarkable  similarity  between 
the  views  of  Josiah  Royce  and  Cassirer  on  such  matters. 


THEORY  OF  MATHEMATICAL  CONCEPTS      263 

circle  of  ideas — the  whole  world,  in  Schopenhauerian  language, 
is  my  idea — and  objectivity  (as  Russell  has  somewhere  justly 
observed)  must  be  construed,  in  the  last  analysis,  as  merely  a 
species  of  subjectivity. 

There  is,  however,  here  as  in  other  contexts,  another  tend- 
ency, or  another  phase  of  Cassirer's  thought,  which  sharply 
conflicts  with  such  abstract  rationalism.  For  above  everything 
else  he  insists  on  the  essential  continuity  of  scientific  thought 
in  general,  and  of  mathematical  thought  in  particular.  And, 
although  carrying  on  a  persistent  warfare  against  all  species  of 
empiricism  and  positivism,  he  at  the  same  time  emphatically 
maintains  that  it  is  the  prime  function  of  scientific  laws  and 
general  mathematical  formulas  alike  to  render  the  'particulars' 
— particular  scientific  facts,  or  specific  mathematical  truths — 
intelligible,  by  incorporating  them  in  a  concrete  systematic 
nexus.  Apart  from  such  a  nexus,  he  insists,  neither  particulars 
nor  universals  have  any  meaning.  Even  in  the  case  of  mathe- 
matics, he  seems  to  argue,  the  construction  of  concepts  does  not 
take  place  in  complete  abstraction  from  perceptually  given  and 
intuitively  apprehended  data,  though  it  does  of  course  involve, 
from  the  very  beginning,  an  attempt  to  free  those  concepts  more 
and  more,  not  from  their  roots  in  experience  as  such,  but  rather 
simply  from  irrelevant,  transitory,  and  merely  sensuous  con- 
notations.23 The  historical  accuracy  of  this  contention  cannot  be 
denied,  and  neither  can  its  epistemological  significance  be  over- 
emphasized. 

The  point  is  that  in  mathematics,  just  as  in  all  other  sciences, 
new  concepts  and  new  theories  are  evolved  in  the  process  of 
seeking  a  solution  to  some  hitherto  recalcitrant  problem  in- 
herited from  an  earlier  stage  in  the  development  of  the  science. 
These  new  concepts  and  theories  usually  represent  the  end 
product  of  a  long  and  arduous  labor  of  preparation,  of  trial 
and  error;  and  their  significance  is  measured,  not  merely  by 
reference  to  the  particular  problem  or  problems  they  solve,  but 
also  in  terms  of  the  enrichment  of  meaning  they  bestow  upon 
previously  accepted  concepts  and  theories.  As  Cassirer  so  well 
says, 

"  Philosofhie  der  symbolischen  Formeny  III,  45 iff.,  esp.  468f. 


264  HAROLD  R.  SMART 

the  unity  and  self-sufficiency  of  the  mathematical  method  depends  upon 
the  fact  that  the  creative,  generative  procedure  to  which  the  science 
owes  its  origin,  never  comes  to  an  end  at  any  given  point,  but  displays 
itself  in  ever  new  forms,  and  in  this  wise  maintains  itself  forever  as  one 
and  the  same,  as  an  indestructible  totality.24 

What  is  of  decisive  significance  here  is  that  within  the  science 
of  mathematics  itself  (quite  as  in  every  other  science)  there  is, 
on  such  a  view,  what  may  be  called  an  immanent  logic,  which 
carries  the  science  forward  on  its  own  momentum.  The  history 
of  mathematics  in  its  entirety  is  nothing  less  than  a  standing 
repudiation  of  any  and  all  attempts  to  'deduce'  its  fundamental 
concepts  and  theories  from  any  fixed  and  arbitrary  set  of  formal 
postulates  and  definitions.  For  that  matter  logical  principles, 
as  such,  differ  absolutely,  both  in  nature  and  function,  from  the 
premises  or  other  foundations  of  any  given  science — such  at 
least  is  one  lesson  plainly  taught  by  the  transcendental  logic  of 
Kant.  And  on  the  other  hand,  the  only  logic  mathematics  (or 
any  other  science)  needs  or  uses,  in  the  course  of  its  own  pro- 
gressive development,  resides  in  those  logical  principles  accord- 
ing to  which,  but  not  from  which,  mathematical  reasoning  pro- 
ceeds. In  the  very  nature  of  the  case,  the  foundations  of  no 
science  are  properly  to  be  described  as  logical}  for  the  good  and 
sufficient  reason  that  it  is  their  proper  function  to  define  or 
determine  (and  this  means  progressively  to  redefine),  not  the 
method,  but  the  general  nature  of  the  content,  the  subject- 
matter,  of  the  science  in  question.  If  it  be  true,  as  everyone 
acknowledges  it  to  be,  that  the  elementary  content  of  mathe- 
matics was  supplied  by,  or  taken  from  crude  experience,  then  it 
is  equally  true  and  undeniable  that  the  whole  history  of  the 
science  must  logically  be  regarded  as  an  account  of  the  precise 
way  in  which  that  first  crude  material  has  been  (as  Cassirer  is 
fond  of  repeating)  elaborated,  refined,  enriched  in  meaning, 
and  increased  in  extent.  It  cannot  be  too  strongly  emphasized 
that  an  enormous  burden  of  proof  rests  upon  the  shoulders  of 
anyone  trying  to  maintain  any  other  thesis — proof  which  would 
not  only  have  to  disregard  all  the  historical  evidence,  but  run 
directly  counter  to  it. 

*  Of.  cit.,  469. 


THEORY  OF  MATHEMATICAL  CONCEPTS      265 

Thus  it  is  only  as  an  inevitable  consequence  of  the  quixotic 
endeavor  to  base  mathematics  on  formal  logic,  that  the  self- 
stultifying  thesis  that  the  science  has  absolutely  no  content  can 
be  understood,  and  that  the  insoluble  problem  of  the  'applica- 
tion' of  mathematical  concepts  rises  up  to  plague  both  scientists 
and  philosophers.  On  the  view  clearly  implicit  in  Cassirer's 
emphasis  on  the  continuity  and  progressive  character  of  mathe- 
matical knowledge,  on  the  other  hand,  no  such  artificial  prob- 
lems can  arise,  for  the  good  and  sufficient  reason  that  on  that 
view  mathematics  has  never  entirely  lost  contact  with  experi- 
ence. 

What,  then,  it  may  be  asked,  is  the  true  import  of  the  dictum 
proclaimed  by  Cassirer  himself,  along  with  so  many  other 
authorities,  that  no  other  meaning  is  to  be  ascribed  to  any 
mathematical  concept  (even  to  such  as  seem  most  empirical, 
such  as  the  solids  of  geometry),  than  that  contained  in  and  pre- 
scribed by  the  basic  postulates  and  definitions?  Does  not  this 
fundamental  methodological  principle  render  any  reference 
to  experience  logically  inoperative  and  purely  incidental?  No 
matter  what  the  whole  previous  history  of  mathematics  says  or 
implies,  who  can  deny  that  such  is  the  state  of  affairs  at  the 
present  time? 

But  surely  the  answers  to  these  questions  are  not  far  to  seek. 
The  phrase  'no  other  meaning  than  that  prescribed  by  the  basic 
postulates'  means  just  what  it  says;  and  it  does  not  say  that  no 
meaning  whatsoever  is  to  be  ascribed  to  such  basic  concepts  and 
propositions.  For  that  matter,  precisely  the  same  assertion,  mu- 
tatis mutandis,  may  be  made  concerning  the  basic  concepts  and 
definitions  of  any  science — biology,  for  example — 5  for  pre- 
cisely herein  lies  the  only  justification  for  calling  them  'basic.' 
That  such  an  assertion  lends  itself  to  misinterpretation  to  the 
effect  that  'no  other  meaning'  means  'no  meaning  at  all'  has, 
however,  unfortunately  revealed  itself  to  be  the  case.  It  is  true, 
of  course,  that  the  only  experience  immediately  and  directly 
relevant  to  mathematics  at  any  given  stage  is  the  highly  ab- 
stract experience  represented,  in  the  main,  by  what  the  next 
preceding  stage  of  the  science  has  made  of  space,  number,  and 
the  like;  just  as,  in  physics,  the  only  directly  relevant  experience 


266  HAROLD  R.  SMART 

is  what  the  next  preceding  stage  of  that  science  has  made  of 
space-time,  the  constitution  of  the  atom,  and  the  like.  No  de- 
veloped science  ever  falls  back  upon  the  crude  experience  of  the 
cplain  man/  for  the  purpose  of  verifying  or  testing  its  concepts 
and  theories}  comparatively  rarely  does  it  do  so,  indeed,  even 
in  the  most  elementary  laboratory  work  of  the  undergraduate. 
In  all  cases  the  experience  really  in  question  is  that  which  both 
insures  the  continuity  of  scientific  knowledge  and  provides  the 
material  essential  for  further  progress.  It  goes  without  saying 
that  experience,  in  such  contexts,  is  restricted  to  what  is  relevant 
to  the  science  in  question j  and,  just  as  the  mathematician  ab- 
stracts from  all  or  most  of  the  physical  properties,  attributes, 
and  relations  of  things,  so  the  physicist  abstracts  from  all  of  the 
properties,  attributes,  and  relations  of  things,  other  than  such  as 
logically  come  within  his  purview  as  a  physicist.25  But  just  as 
physics  yields  genuine  knowledge  of  the  real  world  only  because 
it  does  not  abstract  from  all  properties,  attributes,  and  relations, 
precisely  the  same  is  true,  mutatis  mutandis,  of  mathematics — 
a  fact  which  disposes  of  all  those  problems  concerning  the  appli- 
cation of  mathematics  to  experience,  as  neither  the  theories  of 
Russell  nor  even  those  of  Cassirer  himself  are  able  to  do.  More- 
over, it  is  only  because,  and  to  the  extent  that  this  is  so,  as  Kant 
plainly  intimated,  that  its  'possibility'  as  a  science  can  be  under- 
stood. What  Cassirer  says  so  well  of  mathematical  symbols, 
namely  that  they  are  neither  meaningless  signs,  as  some  would 
argue,  no  mundane  instrumentalities  for  communication  with  a 
transcendent  realm  of  hypostatized  ideas,  as  others  suggest,  but 
are  rather  explicative  of  meanings  immanent  in  mathematical 
thought,  is  directly  to  the  point  in  this  connection.  And  for  this 
very  reason,  if  for  no  others,  a  calculus  of  relations,  conceived 
as  a  branch  of  formal  symbolic  logic,  is  just  as  impotent,  and  for 
strictly  analogous  reasons,  as  the  so-called  subject-predicate 
logic,  with  respect  to  the  generation  of  the  synthetic  concepts 
and  judgments  of  mathematics. 

In  the  light  of  the  preceding  discussion  it  would  seem  that 
much  the  same  observation  applies  to  Cassirer's  theory  of  math- 

*  See  the  present  writer's  article  entitled  "Cassirer  versus  Russell,"  in  Philosophy 
of  Science,  Vol.  X.,  no.  3  (July,  1943),  174. 


THEORY  OF  MATHEMATICAL  CONCEPTS       267 

ematical  concepts,  with  respect  to  its  relation  to  contemporary 
symbolic  logic,  that  commentators  apply  to  Kant's  transcen- 
dental logic,  with  respect  to  its  relation  to  traditional  formal 
logic.  That  is  to  say,  it  is  rather  in  spite  of  misleading  associa- 
tions and  entanglements  with  abstract  formalism  than  because 
of  any  positive  guidance  accruing  from  such  a  source,  that  Cas- 
sirer,  like  Kant  before  him,  has  accomplished  so  much  of  solid 
and  enduring  worth. 

HAROLD  R.  SMART 

SAGE  SCHOOL  OF  PHILOSOPHY 

CORNELL  UNIVERSITY 


7 
Kurt  Lemn 

CASSIRER'S  PHILOSOPHY  OF  SCIENCE  AND 
THE  SOCIAL  SCIENCES 


CASSIRER'S  PHILOSOPHY  OF  SCIENCE  AND 
THE  SOCIAL  SCIENCES 


following  remarks1  on  the  relation  between  Cassirer's 
JJL  views  on  the  development  of  science  and  the  recent  history 
of  psychology  are  the  expression  of  a  person  who  has  always 
felt  the  deep  gratitude  of  a  student  to  his  teacher. 

During  the  period  from  1910,  when,  as  a  graduate  student, 
I  listened  to  the  lectures  of  the  then  "Privatdocent"  Cassirer, 
to  1946,  psychology  has  undergone  a  series  of  major  changes 
related  to  basic  issues  of  Behaviorism,  Gestalt  psychology,  Psy- 
choanalysis, Field  Theory  and  the  present  problem  of  an  in- 
tegrated social  science.  The  experiment  has  reached  out  from 
"psycho-physics"  into  any  number  of  areas  including  motiva- 
tion, personality  >  and  social  psychology.  The  mathematical 
problems  of  representing  psychological  fields  and  treating  data 
statistically  have  proceeded  step  by  step  to  new  levels.  Tech- 
niques of  interviewing,  observation,  and  other  forms  of  fact- 
finding  have  grown  into  a  rich  and  well-established  method- 
ology. The  scientific  infant  of  1910,  which  had  hardly  cut  his 
cord  to  mother  philosophy  and  was  looking  with  astonished  eyes 
and  an  uneasy  heart  to  the  grown-up  sciences,  not  knowing 
whether  he  should  try  to  copy  them  or  whether  he  ought  to 
follow  his  own  line  —  this  scientific  infant  has  perhaps  not  yet 
fully  developed  into  maturity,  but  has  certainly  reached  a  stage 
of  strength  and  progress  which  makes  the  psychologies  of  1910 
and  1946  rather  different  entities.  Still,  throughout  this  period, 
scarcely  a  year  passed  when  I  did  not  have  specific  reason  to 

1  Some  sections  of  this  paper  are  also  published  in  Lewin,  Kurt,  "Problems  of 
Group  Dynamics  and  the  Integration  of  the  Social  Sciences:  I.  Social  Equilibria." 
Human  Relations  (1947)  Vol.  I. 

271 


272  KURT  LEWIN 

acknowledge  the  help  which  Cassirer's  views  on  the  nature  of 
science  and  research  offered. 

The  value  of  Cassirer's  philosophy  for  psychology  lies,  I  feel, 
less  in  his  treatment  of  specific  problems  of  psychology — al- 
though his  contribution  in  this  field  and  particularly  his  recent 
contributions  are  of  great  interest — than  in  his  analysis  of  the 
methodology  and  concept-formation  of  the  natural  sciences. 

To  me  these  decades  of  rapid  scientific  growth  of  psychology 
and  of  the  social  sciences  in  general  have  provided  test  after 
test  for  the  correctness  of  most  of  the  ideas  on  science  and  scien- 
tific development  expressed  in  his  Substanzbegrif  und  Funk- 
tionsbegriff.  Since  the  primitive  discussions  of  the  psychologists 
of  1910  about  whether  or  not  psychology  ought  to  try  to  include 
not  only  qualitative  but  also  quantitative  data,  and  Cassirer's 
general  discussions  of  the  problem  of  quality  and  quantity — up 
to  the  present  problems  of  research  in  personality,  such  as  the 
treatment  of  biographical  data,  and  Cassirer's  discussion  of  the 
interdependence  of  "historical"  and  "systematic"  problems — , 
I  have  felt  with  increasing  strength  the  power  and  productivity 
of  his  basic  approach  to  science. 

It  is  not  easy  to  point  in  Cassirer's  work  to  a  specific  concept 
or  any  specific  statement  which  provides  a  striking  new  insight 
and  solves  a  previously  insoluble  problem.  Still,  as  "participant 
observer"  of  the  recent  history  of  psychology,  I  may  be  per- 
mitted to  state  that  Cassirer's  approach  seems  to  me  a  most 
illuminating  and  constructive  help  for  making  those  decisions 
about  methods  and  about  the  direction  of  the  next  step,  upon 
which  it  depends  whether  a  concrete  piece  of  research  will  be  a 
substantial  contribution  to  a  living  science  or  a  well  polished 
container  of  nothing. 

i.  THEORY  OF  SCIENCE  AND  EMPIRICAL  RESEARCH 

The  relation  between  logic  and  theory  of  science  on  the  one 
hand  and  the  progress  of  empirical  science  on  the  other  is  not 
a  simple  one  and  is  not  easily  transformed  into  a  mutually  pro- 
ductive state  of  affairs. 

Since  Kant  philosophers  have  tried  more  or  less  successfully 
to  avoid  telling  the  empirical  scientist  what  he  "ought"  to  do  or 


SCIENCE  AND  THE  SOCIAL  SCIENCES  273 

not  to  do.  They  have  learned,  with  a  few  exceptions,  to  regard 
science  as  an  object  they  should  study  rather  than  rule.  This 
laudable  and  necessary  removal  of  philosophy  from  the  authori- 
tarian place  of  the  boss  or  the  judge  over  science  has  led  to  a 
tendency  of  eliminating  all  "practical"  relations  between  phi- 
losophy and  the  empirical  sciences,  including  the  perhaps  pos- 
sible and  fruitful  position  of  philosophy  as  a  consultant  to 
science.  As  the  scientist  tries  to  progress  into  the  eternal  frontier 
of  the  unknown,  he  faces  highly  complex  and  intricate  problems 
of  methods,  concepts,  and  theory  formation.  It  would  seem 
natural  that  he  should  turn  to  the  philosophical  study  of  the 
nature  of  science  for  information  and  help  on  the  method- 
ological and  conceptual  aspects  of  the  pressing  problems  he  is 
trying  to  solve. 

There  are  certain  lines  along  which  such  help  might  be  forth- 
coming and  certain  dangers  involved  in  the  all  around  co- 
operation of  scientists  and  philosophers  on  the  theory  and  prac- 
tice of  such  an  "applied  theory  of  science."  To  start  with  the 
latter:  as  a  rule,  the  philosopher  can  hardly  be  expected  to  have 
the  detailed  knowledge  of  an  active  research  worker  in  a  specific 
branch  of  an  empirical  science.  As  a  rule,  therefore,  he  should 
not  be  expected  to  make  direct  contributions  to  empirical 
theories.  The  tragi-comic  happening  of  half  a  decade  ago,  when 
a  certain  group  of  philosophers  tried  to  revive  good  old  classical 
behaviorism  just  after  it  had  fulfilled  its  usefulness  for  psy- 
chology and  was  happily  dying,  should  be  a  warning  against 
such  inappropriate  overstepping  of  boundaries.  On  the  other 
hand,  such  danger  should  not  minimize  the  essential  advantages 
which  a  closer  cooperation  between  the  philosopher  and  the 
scientist  should  offer  to  both. 

As  far  as  I  can  see,  there  are  two  main  lines  along  which 
valuable  and  more  than  accidental  help  for  the  empirical  and 
particularly  the  social  sciences  may  emerge  from  a  closer  rela- 
tion to  philosophy.  One  has  to  do  with  mathematical  logic,  the 
other  with  comparative  theory  of  science. 

The  development  of  mathematical  logic  has  proceeded  con- 
siderably beyond  what  Cassirer  had  to  offer.  Mathematical  logic 
seems  to  provide  a  fruitful  possibility  of  assistance  for  specific 


274  KURT  LEWIN 

problems  of  measurement  for  basic  mathematical  questions  re- 
garding qualitative  and  quantitative  data,  for  general  mathema- 
tical problems  of  representing  social  and  psychological  fields, 
and  so  on.  The  insight  provided  by  mathematical  logic  could 
probably  have  avoided  some  of  the  past  headaches  and  should 
be  of  considerable  potential  assistance  to  the  social  scientist  in  the 
coming  period  of  the  quantitative  measurement  of  social  forces. 

Mathematical  logic  has,  however,  not  been  of  much  avail 
and,  in  my  judgment,  is  not  likely  to  be  of  much  avail  for 
guiding  the  psychologist  or  social  scientist  through  certain  other 
major  methodological  perplexities. 

The  logician  is  accustomed  to  deal  with  problems  of  correct 
conclusions  or  other  aspects  of  science  and  concepts  which  are 
"timeless,"  which  hold  as  much  for  the  physics  of  Copernicus  as 
for  modern  physics.  These  problems  are  doubtless  of  great 
interest  to  the  research-worker.  They  make  up,  however,  only 
a  small  section  of  the  problems  of  scientific  strategy  which  are 
the  concern  of  the  daily  struggle  of  progressing  into  the  un- 
known. The  main  problems,  which  the  scientist  has  to  face  and 
for  which  he  has  to  find  a  solution,  are  inevitably  bound  to  the 
particular  state  of  development  of  his  science,  even  if  they  are 
problems  of  method  rather  than  content. 

It  is  unrealistic  and  unproductive  for  an  empirical  scientist  to 
approach  problems  of  scientific  method  and  procedure  in  a  way 
which  does  not  take  cognizance  of  the  basic  fact  that,  to  be 
effective,  scientific  methods  have  to  be  adjusted  to  the  specific 
state  of  affairs  at  a  given  time.  This  holds  for  the  techniques 
of  fact-finding,  for  the  process  of  conceptualization  and  theoriz- 
ing, in  short,  for  more  or  less  all  aspects  of  research.  Research 
is  the  art  of  taking  the  next  step.  Methods  and  concepts,  which 
may  represent  a  revolutionary  progress  today,  may  be  outmoded 
tomorrow.  Can  the  philosopher  gain  insight  into  the  develop- 
ment of  science  in  a  way  useful  for  these  vital  time-bound 
aspects  of  scientific  labor? 

The  logician  may  be  inclined  to  place  these  problems  outside 
the  realm  of  a  theory  of  science.  He  may  be  inclined  to  view 
them  not  as  philosophical  problems  but  as  questions  which 
should  be  dealt  with  by  historians.  Doubtless  the  researcher  is 


SCIENCE  AND  THE  SOCIAL  SCIENCES  275 

deeply  influenced  by  the  culture  in  which  he  lives  and  by  its 
technical  and  economic  facilities.  Not  these  problems  of  cultural 
history,  however,  are  in  question  when  the  social  psychologist 
has  to  make  up  his  mind  whether  or  not  "experiments  with 
groups"  are  scientifically  meaningful,  or  what  procedure  he  may 
follow  for  developing  better  concepts  of  personality,  of  leader- 
ship, or  of  other  aspects  of  group  life.  Not  historical,  but  con- 
ceptual and  methodological  problems  are  to  be  answered,  ques- 
tions about  what  is  scientifically  right  or  wrong,  adequate  or 
inadequate  5  although  this  correctness  may  be  specific  to  a  special 
developmental  stage  of  a  science  and  may  not  hold  for  a  pre- 
vious or  a  later  stage.  In  other  words,  the  term  "scientific  de- 
velopment" refers  to  levels  of  scientific  maturity,  to  levels  of 
concepts  and  theories  in  the  sense  of  philosophy  rather  than  of 
human  history  or  psychology. 

It  is  this  approach  to  science  as  emerging  systems  of  theorems 
and  concepts  to  which  Cassirer  has  contributed  so  much.  When- 
ever Cassirer  discusses  science,  he  seems  to  perceive  both  the 
permanent  characteristics  of  scientific  systems  and  procedures 
and  the  specific  conceptual  form. 

Philosophy  of  science  can  come  to  an  insight  into  the  nature 
of  science  only  by  studying  science.  It  is,  therefore,  in  permanent 
danger  of  making  the  science  of  the  past  a  prototype  for  all 
science  and  of  making  past  methodology  the  standard  by  which 
to  measure  what  scientific  methods  "ought"  to  be  used  or  not 
to  be  used.  Cassirer  has  in  most  cases  successfully  avoided  this 
danger  by  looking  at  the  scientific  mehods  of  the  past  in  the  way 
in  which  the  research-worker  at  that  time  would  perceive  them. 
He  discloses  the  basic  character  of  science  as  the  eternal  attempt 
to  go  beyond  what  is  regarded  scientifically  accessible  at  any 
specific  time.  To  proceed  beyond  the  limitations  of  a  given  level 
of  knowledge  the  researcher,  as  a  rule,  has  to  break  down 
methodological  taboos  which  condemn  as  "unscientific"  or  "il- 
logical" the  very  methods  or  concepts  which  later  on  prove  to 
be  basic  for  the  next  major  progress.  Cassirer  has  shown  how 
this  step  by  step  revolution  of  what  is  "scientifically  permis- 
sible" dominates  the  development  of  mathematics,  physics,  and 
chemistry  throughout  their  history. 


276  KURT  LEWIN 

A  second  reason  why  I  feel  Cassirer's  approach  is  so  valuable 
to  the  social  scientist  is  his  comparative  procedure.  Although 
Cassirer  has  not  fully  developed  what  might  be  called  a  system- 
atic comparative  theory  of  the  sciences,  he  took  important  steps 
in  this  direction.  His  treatment  of  mathematics,  physics,  and 
chemistry,  of  historical  and  systematic  disciplines  is  essentially 
of  a  comparative  nature.  Cassirer  shows  an  unusual  ability  to 
blend  the  analysis  of  general  characteristics  of  scientific  method- 
ology with  the  analysis  of  a  specific  branch  of  science.  It  is  this 
ability  to  reveal  the  general  rule  in  an  example,  without  de- 
stroying the  specific  characteristics  of  a  particular  discipline  at  a 
given  stage  of  development,  which  makes  the  comparative  treat- 
ment of  some  branches  of  mathematics  and  of  the  natural 
sciences  so  illuminating  for  research  in  the  social  sciences.  This 
comparative  approach  opens  the  way  to  a  perception  of  similari- 
ties between  different  sciences  and  between  apparently  un- 
related questions  within  the  same  science. 

We  shall  discuss  here  only  one  type  of  problem  as  an  example 
of  the  structural  similarities  between  the  conceptual  problems 
of  the  present  social  sciences  and  problems  of  mathematics  and 
the  physical  sciences  at  certain  stages  of  development,  namely 
that  of  "existence." 

2.  THE  PROBLEM  OF  "EXISTENCE"  IN  AN  EMPIRICAL  SCIENCE 

Arguments  about  "existence"  may  seem  metaphysical  in 
nature  and  may  therefore  not  be  expected  to  be  raised  in 
empirical  sciences.  Actually,  however,  opinions  about  existence 
or  non-existence  are  quite  common  in  the  empirical  sciences  and 
have  greatly  influenced  scientific  development  in  both  a  positive 
and  a  negative  way.  Labelling  something  as  "non-existing"  is 
equivalent  to  declaring  it  "out  of  bounds"  for  the  scientist. 
Attributing  "existence"  to  an  item  automatically  makes  it  a  duty 
of  the  scientist  to  consider  this  item  as  an  object  of  research;  it 
includes  the  necessity  of  considering  its  properties  as  "facts," 
which  cannot  be  neglected  in  the  total  system  of  theories  j 
finally,  it  implies  that  the  terms  by  which  one  refers  to  the  item 
are  accepted  as  scientific  "concepts"  (rather  than  regarded  as 
"mere  words"). 


SCIENCE  AND  THE  SOCIAL  SCIENCES  277 

The  problem  of  "existence"  is,  therefore,  one  of  the  most 
illuminating  examples  for  the  way  in  which  facts,  concepts,  and 
methods  are  closely  interdependent  aspects  of  an  empirical 
science.  To  demonstrate  the  way  in  which  this  interdependence 
is  functioning  in  every  phase  of  science  is  the  central  theme  of 
this  aspect  of  Cassirer's  philosophy. 

Cassirer  follows  the  steps  by  which  mathematics  is  gradually 
transformed.  Geometry  and  the  theory  of  numbers,  for  instance, 
changes  from  a  study  of  separate  forms  or  entities,  which  are  to 
be  described  and  analysed  one  by  one — with  the  objective  of 
finding  "permanent  properties" — into  a  discipline  which  deals 
with  problems  of  interrelations  and  transformations.2 

Geometry,  as  the  theory  of  invariants,  treats  certain  unchangeable  rela- 
tions; but  this  unchangeableness  cannot  be  defined  unless  we  understand, 
as  its  conceptual  background,  certain  fundamental  changes  relative  to 
which  they  hold.  The  unchanging  geometrical  properties  are  not  such 
in  and  for  themselves,  but  only  in  relation  to  a  system  of  possible  trans- 
formations that  we  implicitly  assume.  Constancy  and  change  thus  appear 
as  thoroughly  correlative  moments,  definable  only  through  each  other.3 

In  physics  an  equivalent  change  occurs  on  the  basis  of  an 
increasingly  close  interdependence  of  fact  finding  and  theory. 

It  has  been  shown,  in  opposition  to  the  traditional  logical  doctrine,  that 
the  course  of  the  mathematical  construction  of  concepts  is  defined  by  the 
procedures  of  the  construction  of  series.  We  have  not  been  concerned 
with  separating  out  the  common  element  from  a  plurality  of  similar  im- 
pressions but  with  establishing  a  principle  by  which  their  diversity  should 
appear.  The  unity  of  the  concept  has  not  been  found  in  a  fixed  group  of 
properties,  but  in  the  rule,  which  represents  the  mere  diversity  as  a 
sequence  of  elements  according  to  law.4 

In  truth,  no  physicist  experiments  and  measures  with  the  particular 
instrument  that  he  has  sensibly  before  his  eyes;  but  he  substitutes  for  it 
an  ideal  instrument  in  thought,  from  which  all  accidental  defects,  such 
as  necessarily  belong  to  the  particular  instrument,  are  excluded.  For 
example,  if  we  measure  the  intensity  of  an  electric  current  by  a  tangent- 
compass,  then  the  observations,  which  we  make  first  with  a  concrete 

a  Substance  and  Function  (Swabcy  tr.) ,  68. 

*  Ibid.,  90$  wording  changed  by  K.  Lewin,  in  line  with  German  original. 

4 Ibid.,  148. 


278  KURT  LEWIN 

apparatus,  must  be  related  and  carried  over  to  a-  general  geometrical 
model,  before  they  are  physically  applicable.  We  substitute  for  a  coppei 
wire  of  a  definite  strength  a  strictly  geometrical  circle  without  breadth ; 
in  place  of  the  steel  of  the  magnetic  needle,  which  has  a  certain  magni- 
tude and  form,  we  substitute  an  infinitely  small,  horizontal  magnetic 
axis,  which  can  be  moved  without  friction  around  a  vertical  axis;  and 
it  is  the  totality  of  these  transformations,  which  permits  us  to  carry  the 
observed  deflection  of  the  magnetic  needle  into  the  general  theoretical 
formula  of  the  strength  of  the  current,  and  thus  to  determine  the  value 
of  the  latter.  The  corrections,  which  we  make  and  must  necessarily  make 
with  the  use  of  every  physical  instrument,  are  themselves  a  work  of 
mathematical  theory;  to  exclude  these  latter,  is  to  deprive  the  observation 
itself  of  its  meaning  and  value.5 

Until  relatively  recently  psychology,  sociology,  and  anthro- 
pology were  dominated  by  a  methodology  which  regarded 
science  as  a  process  of  "collecting  facts."  This  methodology 
showed  all  the  earmarks  of  early  Greek  mathematics  and  pre- 
Galilean  physics.  During  the  last  ten  years  the  hostility  to 
theorizing  has  greatly  diminished.  It  has  been  replaced  by  a 
relatively  wide-spread  recognition  of  the  necessity  for  develop- 
ing better  concepts  and  higher  levels  of  theory. 

This  change  has  its  corollary  in  certain  changes  regarding 
what  is  considered  "existing."  Beliefs  regarding  "existence"  in 
social  science  have  changed  in  regard  to  the  degree  to  which 
"full  reality"  is  attributed  to  psychological  and  social  phenom- 
ena, and  in  regard  to  the  reality  of  their  "deeper,"  dynamic 
properties. 

At  the  beginning  of  this  century,  for  instance,  the  experi- 
mental psychology  of  "will  and  emotion"  had  to  fight  for  rec- 
ognition against  a  prevalent  attitude  which  placed  volition, 
emotion,  and  sentiments  in  the  "poetic  realm"  of  beautiful 
words,  a  realm  to  which  nothing  corresponds  which  could  be 
regarded  as  "existing"  in  the  sense  in  which  the  scientist  uses 
the  term.  Although  every  psychologist  had  to  deal  with  these 
facts  realistically  in  his  private  life,  they  were  banned  from  the 
realm  of  "facts"  in  the  scientific  sense.  Emotions  were  declared 

'/«*.,  144. 


SCIENCE  AND  THE  SOCIAL  SCIENCES          279 

to  be  something  too  "fluid"  and  "intangible"  to  be  pinned  down 
by  scientific  analysis  or  by  experimental  procedures.  Such  a 
methodological  argument  does  not  deny  existence  to  the  phe- 
nomenon, but  it  has  the  effect  of  keeping  the  topic  outside  the 
realm  of  empirical  science. 

Like  social  taboos,  a  scientific  taboo  is  kept  up  not  so  much  by 
a  rational  argument  as  by  a  common  attitude  among  scientists: 
any  member  of  the  scientific  guild  who  does  not  strictly  adhere 
to  the  taboo  is  looked  upon  as  queer  j  he  is  suspected  of  not 
adhering  to  the  scientific  standards  of  critical  thinking. 

3.  THE  REALITY  OF  SOCIAL  PHENOMENA 

Before  the  invention  of  the  atom  bomb  the  average  physical 
scientist  was  hardly  ready  to  concede  to  social  phenomena  the 
same  degree  of  "reality"  as  to  a  physical  object.  Hiroshima  and 
Nagasaki  seem  to  have  caused  many  physical  scientists  to  change 
their  minds.  This  change  was  hardly  based  on  philosophical  con- 
siderations. The  bomb  has  driven  home  with  dramatic  intensity 
the  degree  to  which  social  happenings  are  both  the  result  of 
and  the  conditions  for  the  occurrence  of  physical  events.  The 
period  during  which  the  natural  scientist  thought  of  the  social 
scientist  as  someone  interested  in  dreams  and  words  (rather 
than  as  an  investigator  of  facts  which  are  not  less  real  than 
physical  facts  and  which  can  be  studied  no  less  objectively)  has 
gradually  been  coming  to  an  end. 

The  social  scientists  themselves,  of  course,  have  had  a 
stronger  belief  in  the  "reality"  of  the  entities  they  were  study- 
ing. Still  this  belief  was  frequently  limited  to  the  specific  narrow 
section  with  which  they  happened  to  be  familiar.  The  economist, 
for  instance,  finds  it  a  bit  difficult  to  concede  to  psychological, 
to  anthropological,  or  to  legal  data  that  degree  of  reality  which 
he  gives  to  prices  and  other  economic  data.  Some  psychologists 
still  view  with  suspicion  the  reality  of  those  cultural  facts  with 
which  the  anthropologist  is  concerned.  They  tend  to  regard  only 
individuals  as  real  and  they  are  not  inclined  to  consider  a 
"group  atmosphere"  as  something  which  is  as  real  and  measur- 
able as,  let  us  say,  a  physical  field  of  gravity.  Concepts  like  that 


a8o  KURT  LEWIN 

of  "leadership"  retained  a  halo  of  mysticism  even  after  it  had 
been  demonstrated  that  it  is  quite  possible  to  measure  and  not 
only  to  "judge"  leadership  performance. 

The  denial  of  existence  of  a  group  or  of  certain  aspects  of 
group  life  is  based  on  arguments  which  grant  existence  only  to 
units  of  certain  size,  or  which  concern  methodologic-technical 
problems,  or  conceptual  problems. 

4.  REALITY  AND  SIZE 

Cassirer6  discusses  how,  periodically  throughout  the  history 
of  physics,  vivid  discussions  have  occurred  about  the  reality  of 
the  atom,  the  electron,  or  whatever  else  was  considered  at  that 
time  to  be  the  smallest  particle  of  physical  material.  In  the  social 
sciences  it  has  usually  been  not  the  part  but  the  whole  whose 
existence  has  been  doubted. 

Logically,  there  is  no  reason  for  distinguishing  between  the 
reality  of  a  molecule,  an  atom,  or  an  ion,  or  more  generally 
between  the  reality  of  a  whole  or  its  parts.  There  is  no  more 
magic  behind  the  fact  that  groups  have  properties  of  their  own, 
which  are  different  from  the  properties  of  their  subgroups  or 
their  individuals  members,  than  behind  the  fact  that  molecules 
have  properties,  which  are  different  from  the  properties  of  the 
atoms  or  ions  of  which  they  are  composed. 

In  the  social  as  in  the  physical  field  the  structural  properties 
of  a  dynamic  whole  are  different  from  the  structural  properties 
of  their  subparts.  Both  sets  of  properties  have  to  be  investigated. 
When  one  and  when  the  other  is  most  important,  depends  upon 
the  question  to  be  answered.  But  there  is  no  difference  of  reality 
between  them. 

If  this  basic  statement  is  accepted,  the  problem  of  existence 
of  a  group  loses  its  metaphysical  flavor.  Instead  we  face  a  series 
of  empirical  problems.  They  are  equivalent  to  the  chemical 
question  of  whether  a  given  aggregate  is  a  mixture  of  different 
types  of  atoms,  or  whether  these  atoms  have  formed  molecules 
of  a  certain  type.  The  answer  to  such  a  question  has  to  be 
given  in  chemistry,  as  in  the  social  sciences,  on  the  basis  of  an 

f  Ibid.,  151-170. 


SCIENCE  AND  THE  SOCIAL  SCIENCES  281 

empirical  probing  into  certain  testable  properties  of  the  case  in 
hand. 

For  instance,  it  may  be  wrong  to  state  that  the  blond  women 
living  in  a  town  "exist  as  a  group"  in  the  sense  of  being  a  dy- 
namic whole  that  is  characterized  by  a  close  interdependence  of 
their  members.  They  are  merely  a  number  of  individuals  who 
are  "classified  under  one  concept"  according  to  the  similarity  of 
one  of  their  properties.  If,  however,  the  blond  members  of  a 
workshop  are  made  an  "artificial  minority"  and  are  discrim- 
inated against  by  their  colleagues,  they  may  well  become  a 
group  with  specific  structural  properties. 

Structural  properties  are  characterized  by  relations  between 
parts  rather  than  by  the  parts  or  elements  themselves.  Cassirer 
emphasizes  that,  throughout  the  history  of  mathematics  and 
physics,  from  Anaxagoras  and  Aristotle  to  Bacon,  Boscovich, 
Boltzman  and  the  present  day,  problems  of  constancy  of  rela- 
tions rather  than  of  constancy  of  elements  have  gained  im- 
portance and  have  gradually  changed  the  picture  of  what  is 
considered  essential. 

The  meaning  of  the  mathematical  concept  cannot  be  comprehended, 
as  long  as  we  seek  any  sort  of  presentational  correlate  for  it  in  the  given ; 
the  meaning  only  appears  when  we  recognize  the  concept  as  the  expres- 
sion of  a  $ure  relation,  upon  which  rests  the  unity  and  continuous  con- 
nection of  the  members  of  a  manifold.  The  function  of  the  physical 
concept  also  is  first  evident  in  this  interpretation.  The  more  it  disclaims 
every  independent  perceptible  content  and  everything  pictorial,  the 
more  clearly  its  logical  and  systematic  function  is  shown.  .  .  .  All  that  the 
"thing"  of  the  popular  view  of  the  world  loses  in  properties,  it  gains 
in  relations;  for  it  no  longer  remains  isolated  and  dependent  on  itself 
alone,  but  is  connected  inseparably  by  logical  threads  with  the  totality 
of  experience.  Each  particular  concept  is,  as  it  were,  one  of  these  threads, 
on  which  we  string  real  experiences  and  connect  them  with  future  possi- 
ble experiences.  The  objects  of  physics:  matter  and  force,  atom  and 
ether,  can  no  longer  be  misunderstood  as  so  many  new  realities  for  in- 
vestigation, and  realities  whose  inner  essence  is  to  be  penetrated — when 
once  they  are  recognized  as  instruments  produced  by  thought  for  the 
purpose  of  comprehending  the  confusion  of  phenomena  as  an  ordered 
and  measurable  whole/ 

'Ibid.,  1 66. 


282  KURT  LEWIN 

5.  REALITY,  METHODS,  AND  EXPERIENCE 

If  recognition  o£  the  existence  of  an  entity  depends  upon 
this  entity's  showing  properties  or  constancies  of  its  own,  the 
judgment  about  what  is  real  or  unreal  should  be  affected  by 
changes  in  the  possibility  of  demonstrating  social  properties. 

The  social  sciences  have  considerably  improved  their  tech- 
niques for  reliably  recording  the  structure  of  small  or  large 
groups  and  of  registering  the  various  aspects  of  group  life. 
Sociometric  techniques,  group  observation,  interview  techniques, 
and  others  are  enabling  the  social  scientist  more  and  more  to 
gather  reliable  data  on  the  structural  properties  of  groups,  on 
the  relations  between  groups  or  subgroups,  and  on  the  relation 
between  a  group  and  the  life  of  its  individual  members. 

The  taboo  against  believing  in  the  existence  of  a  social  entity 
is  probably  most  effectively  broken  by  handling  this  entity 
experimentally.  As  long  as  the  scientist  merely  describes  a  lead- 
ership form,  he  is  open  to  the  criticism  that  the  categories  used 
reflect  merely  his  "subjective  views"  and  do  not  correspond  to 
the  "real"  properties  of  the  phenomena  under  consideration.  If 
the  scientist  experiments  with  leadership  and  varies  its  form, 
he  relies  on  an  "operational  definition"  which  links  the  concept 
of  a  leadership  form  to  concrete  procedures  of  creating  such  a 
leadership  form  or  to  the  procedures  for  testing  its  existence. 
The  "reality"  of  that  to  which  the  concept  refers  is  established 
by  "doing  with"  rather  than  "looking  at,"  and  this  reality  is 
independent  of  certain  "subjective"  elements  of  classification. 
The  progress  of  physics  from  Archimedes  to  Einstein  shows 
consecutive  steps,  by  v^hich  the  "practical"  aspect  of  the  ex- 
perimental procedure  has  modified  and  sometimes  revolution- 
ized the  scientific  concepts  regarding  the  physical  world  by 
changing  the  beliefs  of  the  scientists  about  what  is  and  what  is 
not  real. 

To  vary  a  social  phenomenon  experimentally  the  experi- 
menter has  to  take  hold  of  all  essential  factors,  even  if  he  is 
not  yet  able  to  analyze  them  satisfactorily.  A  major  omission 
or  misjudgment  on  this  point  makes  the  experiment  fail.  In 
social  research  the  experimenter  has  to  take  into  consideration 
such  factors  as  the  personality  of  individual  members,  the  group 


SCIENCE  AND  THE  SOCIAL  SCIENCES  283 

structure,  ideology  and  cultural  values,  and  economic  factors. 
Group  experimentation  is  a  form  of  social  management.  To  be 
successful  it,  like  social  management,  has  to  take  into  account 
all  of  the  various  factors  that  happen  to  be  important  for  the 
case  in  hand.  Experimentation  with  groups  will  therefore  lead 
to  a  natural  integration  of  the  social  sciences,  and  it  will  force 
the  social  scientist  to  recognize  as  reality  the  totality  of  factors 
which  determine  group  life. 

6.  SOCIAL  REALITY  AND  CONCEPTS 

It  seems  that  the  social  scientist  has  a  better  chance  of  accom- 
plishing such  a  realistic  integration  than  the  social  practitioner. 
For  thousands  of  years  kings,  priests,  politicians,  educators,  pro- 
ducers, fathers  and  mothers — in  fact,  all  individuals — have 
been  trying  day  by  day  to  influence  smaller  or  larger  groups. 
One  might  assume  that  this  would  have  led  to  accumulated 
wisdom  of  a  well  integrated  nature.  Unfortunately  nothing  is 
farther  from  the  truth.  We  know  that  our  average  diplomat 
thinks  in  very  one-sided  terms,  perhaps  those  of  law,  or  eco- 
nomics, or  military  strategy.  We  know  that  the  average  manu- 
facturer holds  highly  distorted  views  about  what  makes  a 
work-team  tick.  We  know  that  no  one  can  answer  today  even 
such  relatively  simple  questions  as  what  determines  the  pro- 
ductivity of  a  committee  meeting. 

Several  factors  have  come  together  to  prevent  practical  ex- 
perience from  leading  to  clear  insight.  Certainly,  the  man  of 
affairs  is  convinced  of  the  reality  of  group  life,  but  he  is  usually 
opposed  to  a  conceptual  analysis.  He  prefers  to  think  in  terms 
of  "intuition"  and  "intangibles."  The  able  practitioner  fre- 
quently insists  that  it  is  impossible  to  formulate  simple,  clear 
rules  about  how  to  reach  a  social  objective.  He  insists  that 
different  actions  have  to  be  taken  according  to  the  various  situa- 
tions, that  plans  have  to  be  highly  flexible  and  sensitive  to  the 
changing  scene. 

If  one  tries  to  transform  these  sentiments  into  scientific  lan- 
guage, they  amount  to  the  following  statements,  a)  Social 
events  depend  on  the  social  field  as  a  whole,  rather  than  on  a 
few  selected  items.  This  is  the  basic  insight  behind  the  field 


284  KURT  LEWIN 

theoretical  method  which  has  been  successful  in  physics,  which 
has  steadily  grown  in  psychology  and,  in  my  opinion,  is  bound 
to  be  equally  fundamental  for  the  study  of  social  fields,  simply 
because  it  expresses  certain  basic  general  characteristics  of  inter- 
dependence, b)  The  denial  of  "simple  rules"  is  partly  identical 
with  the  following  important  principle  of  scientific  analysis. 
Science  tries  to  link  certain  observable  (phenotypical)  data  with 
other  observable  data.  It  is  crucial  for  all  problems  of  inter- 
dependence, however,  that — for  reasons  which  we  do  not  need 
to  discuss  here — it  is,  as  a  rule,  impracticable  to  link  one  set  of 
phenotypical  data  directly  to  other  phenotypical  data.  Instead, 
it  is  necessary  to  insert  "intervening  variables."8  To  use  a  more 
common  language:  the  practitioner  as  well  as  the  scientist  views 
the  observable  data  as  mere  "symptoms."  They  are  "surface" 
indications  of  some  "deeper-lying"  facts.  He  has  learned  to 
"read"  the  symptoms,  like  a  physicist  reads  his  instruments. 
The  equations  which  express  physical  laws  refer  to  such  deeper- 
lying  dynamic  entities  as  pressure,  energy,  or  temperature 
rather  than  to  the  directly  observable  symptoms  such  as  the 
movements  of  the  pointer  of  an  instrument. 

The  underlying  methodological  principle  is  but  one  expres- 
sion of  the  nature  of  the  relation  between  concepts,  scientific 
facts  and  scientific  fact  finding.  In  the  words  of  Cassirer, 

Strictly  speaking,  the  experiment  never  concerns  the  real  case,  as  it  lies 
before  us  here  and  now  in  all  the  wealth  of  its  particular  determinations, 
but  the  experiment  rather  concerns  an  ideal  case,  which  we  substitute 
for  it.  The  real  beginnings  of  scientific  induction  furnish  the  classical 
example  of  this.  Galileo  did  not  discover  the  law  of  falling  bodies  by 
collecting  arbitrary  observations  of  sensuously  real  bodies,  but  by  de- 
fining hypothetically  the  concept  of  uniform  acceleration  and  taking  it  as 
a  conceptual  measure  of  the  facts.  This  concept  provides  for  the  given 
time-values  a  series  of  space-values,  such  as  proceed  according  to  a 
fixed  rule,  that  can  be  grasped  once  for  all.  Henceforth  we  must  at- 
tempt to  advance  to  the  actual  process  of  reality  by  a  progressive  con- 
sideration of  the  complex  determinations,  that  were  originally  excluded: 
as,  for  example,  the  variation  of  acceleration  according  to  the  distance 
from  the  centre  of  the  earth,  retardation  by  the  resistance  of  the  air,  etc.9 

'Tolman,  E.  C,  "The  Determiners  of  Behavior  at  a  Choice  Point,"  Psycho- 
logical Review,  (1938),  Vol.  45,  1-41. 
*  Substance  and  Function  fEnp-1.  tr.V  *  CA 


SCIENCE  AND  THE  SOCIAL  SCIENCES  285 

If  we  consider  the  factors  involved  in  the  measurement  of  motion,  .  .  . 
it  is  evident  that  the  physical  definition  of  motion  cannot  be  established 
without  substituting  the  geometrical  body  for  the  sensuous  body,  without 
substituting  the  "intelligible"  continuous  extension  of  the  mathematician 
for  sensuous  extension.  Before  we  can  speak  of  motion  and  its  exact 
measurement  in  the  strict  sense,  we  must  go  from  the  contents  of  per- 
ception to  their  conceptual  limits.  ...  It  is  no  less  a  pure  conceptual  con- 
struction, when  we  ascribe  a  determinate  velocity  to  a  non-uniformly 
moving  body  at  each  point  of  its  path;  such  a  construction  presupposes 
for  its  explanation  nothing  less  than  the  whole  logical  theory  of  in- 
finitesimal analysis.  But  even  where  we  seem  to  stand  closer  to  direct 
sensation,  where  we  seem  guided  by  no  other  interest  than  to  arrange  its 
differences  as  presented  us,  into  a  fixed  scale,  even  here  theoretical 
elements  are  requisite  and  clearly  appear.  It  is  a  long  way  from  the 
immediate  sensation  of  heat  to  the  exact  concept  of  temperature.10 

The  dynamics  of  social  events  provides  no  exception  to  this 
general  characteristic  of  dynamics.  If  it  were  possible  to  link  a 
directly  observable  group  behavior,  B,  with  another  behavior, 
B1,  —  B  =  F  (B1)  where  F  means  a  simple  function  —  then 
simple  rules  of  procedure  for  the  social  practitioner  would  be 
possible.  When  the  practitioner  denies  that  such  rules  can  be 
more  than  poor  approximations  he  seems  to  imply  that  the 
function,  F,  is  complicated.  I  am  inclined  to  interpret  his 
statement  actually  to  mean  that  in  group  life,  too,  "appearance" 
should  be  distinguished  from  the  "underlying  facts,"  that  simi- 
larity of  appearance  may  go  together  with  dissimilarity  of  the 
essential  properties  and  vice  versa,  and  that  laws  can  be  formu- 
lated only  in  regard  to  these  underlying  dynamic  entities  — 
k  =  F  (n,m)  where  k,n,m  refer  not  to  behavioral  symptoms 
but  to  intervening  variables.11 

For  the  social  scientist  this  means  that  he  should  give  up 
thinking  about  such  items  as  group  structure,  group  tension,  or 
social  forces  as  nothing  more  than  a  popular  metaphor  or 
analogy,  which  should  be  eliminated  from  science  as  much  as 
possible.  Although  there  is  no  need  for  social  science  to  copy 
the  specific  concepts  of  the  physical  sciences,  the  social  scientist 
should  be  clear  that  he,  too,  needs  intervening  variables  and 


142., 

11  Cf  .  Lewin,  Kurt,  A  Dynamic  Theory  of  Personality  (tr.  by  D.  Adams  and 
K.  Zener),  New  York:  McGraw-Hill  (1935). 


286  KURT  LEWIN 

that  these  dynamic  facts  rather  than  the  symptoms  and  appear- 
ances are  the  important  points  of  reference  for  him  and  the 
social  practitioner  alike. 

7.  MATHEMATIZATION  AND  INTEGRATION  OF  THE 
SOCIAL  SCIENCES 

The  relation  between  theory  formation,  fact  finding  and 
mathematization,  which  Cassirer  has  described  in  regard  to 
the  physical  sciences,  has  come  much  to  the  fore  in  the  psy- 
chology of  the  last  decade.  Different  psychological  trends  have 
led  from  different  sides  and  with  partly  different  objectives 
to  a  strong  emphasis  on  mathematization.  This  need  springs 
partly  from  a  desire  of  a  more  exact  scientific  representation 
of  the  results  of  tests  or  other  fact  findings  and  has  led  to  an 
elaborate  development  of  statistical  procedures.  In  part  the 
emphasis  on  mathematization  springs  from  the  desire  of  a 
deeper  theoretical  insight.12  Both  geometrical  and  algebraic 
concepts  are  employed  to  this  end. 

Mathematical  economics  since  Pareto  (1909)  is  another  ex- 
ample of  the  development  of  a  social  science  which  shows  many 
of  the  characteristics  discussed  by  Cassirer. 

One  of  the  most  striking  illustrations  of  the  function  of 
theorems,  concepts,  and  methods  in  the  development  of  science 
is  their  role  in  the  integration  of  the  social  sciences  which  is 
just  beginning  to  take  place.  It  may  be  appropriate  to  mention 
this  problem  and  to  refer  briefly  to  considerations  I  have  pre- 
sented elsewhere.13 

Many  aspects  of  social  life  can  be  viewed  as  quasi-stationary 
processes.  They  can  be  regarded  as  states  of  quasi-stationary 
equilibrium  in  the  precise  meaning  of  a  constellation  of  forces 
the  structure  of  which  can  be  well  defined.  The  scientific  treat- 

18  Hull,  C.  L.,  Principles  of  Bettavior,  New  York:  Appleton  Century  (1943)$ 
Kohler,  W.,  The  Place  of  Value  in  a  World  of  Facts.  New  York:  Liveright  (1938)  j 
Lewin,  Kurt,  "The  Conceptual  Representation  and  the  Measurement  of  Psycho- 
logical Forces,"  Contributions  to  Psychological  Theory,  Vol.  I,  No.  4,  Duke  Uni- 
versity Press  (1938)5  Lewin,  Kurt,  "Constructs  in  Psychology  and  Psychological 
Ecology,"  Studies  in  Tofological  and  Vector  Psychology,  III,  University  of  Iowa. 

11  Lewin,  Kurt,  "Problems  of  Group  Dynamics  and  the  Integration  of  the  Social 
Sciences:  I.  Social  Equilibria,"  Human  Relations  (1947),  Vol.  I. 


SCIENCE  AND  THE  SOCIAL  SCIENCES  287 

ment  of  social  forces  presupposes  analytic  devices  which  are 
adequate  to  the  nature  of  social  processes  and  which  are  tech- 
nically fitted  to  serve  as  a  bridge  to  a  mathematical  treatment. 
The  basic  means  to  this  end  is  the  representation  of  social 
situations  as  "social  fields." 

This  technical  analysis  makes  it  possible  to  formulate  in  a 
more  exact  way  problems  of  planned  social  changes  and  of  re- 
sistance to  change.  It  permits  general  statements  concerning 
some  aspects  of  the  problem  of  selecting  specific  objectives  in 
bringing  about  change,  concerning  different  methods  of  bring- 
ing about  the  same  amount  of  change,  and  concerning  differences 
in  the  secondary  effects  of  these  methods.  The  analytic  tools 
used  are  equally  applicable  to  cultural,  economic,  sociological, 
and  psychological  aspects  of  group  life.  They  fit  a  great  variety 
of  processes,  such  as  production  levels  of  a  factory,  a  work- 
team  and  an  individual  worker;  changes  of  abilities  of  an  indi- 
vidual and  of  capacities  of  a  country;  group  standards  with  and 
without  cultural  value;  activities  of  one  group  and  the  interac- 
tion between  groups,  between  individuals,  and  between  indi- 
viduals and  groups.  The  analysis  concedes  equal  reality  to  all 
aspects  of  group  life  and  to  social  units  of  all  sizes.  The  applica- 
tion depends  upon  the  structural  properties  of  the  process  and  of 
the  total  situation  in  which  it  takes  place. 

How  is  it  possible,  one  may  ask,  to  bring  together  under  one 
heading  and  procedure  such  diversified  data?  Does  that  not 
necessarily  mean  losing  in  concreteness  what  one  might  gain 
in  scientific  generality? 

In  the  same  way  as  the  natural  sciences,  the  social  sciences 
have  to  face  the  problem  of  how  to  get  hold  conceptually  of 
the  disturbing  qualitative  richness  of  psychological  and  cul- 
tural events,  how  to  find  "general"  laws  without  giving  up 
reaching  the  individual  case.  Cassirer  describes  how  the  mathe- 
matical constructive  procedure  solves  this  problem  by  changing, 
as  it  were,  the  very  meaning  of  equality  and  scientific  abstrac- 
tion. Speaking  of  equalities  of  mathematical  sets  he  says,  "This 
similarity,  however,  means  nothing  more  than  that  they  are 
connected  by  a  definite  rule,  such  as  permits  us  to  proceed  from 
one  manifold  to  another  by  continued  identical  application  of 


a88  KURT  LEWIN 

the  same  fundamental  relation}"14  "The  genuine  concept  does 
not  disregard  the  peculiarities  and  particularities  which  it  holds 
under  it,  but  seeks  to  show  the  necessity  of  the  occurrence  and 
connection  of  just  these  particularities."15 

The  individual  case  is  not  excluded  from  consideration,  but  is  fixed  and 
retained  as  a  perfectly  determinate  step  in  a  general  process  of  change. 
It  is  evident  anew  that  the  characteristic  feature  of  the  concept  is  not 
the  "universality"  of  a  presentation,  but  the  universal  validity  of  a 
principle  of  serial  order.  We  do  not  isolate  any  abstract  part  whatever 
from  the  manifold  before  us,  but  we  create  for  its  members  a  definite 
relation  by  thinking  of  them  as  bound  together  by  an  inclusive  law.  And 
the  further  we  proceed  in  this  and  the  more  firmly  this  connection  ac- 
cording to  laws  is  established,  so  much  the  clearer  does  the  unambiguous 
determination  of  the  particular  stand  forth.16 

The  consideration  of  quasi-stationary  equilibria  is  based  on 
analytic  concepts  which,  within  the  realm  of  the  social  sciences, 
have  emerged  first  in  psychology.  The  concepts  of  a  psycho- 
logical force,  of  tension,  of  conflicts  as  equilibria  of  forces,  of 
force  fields  and  of  inducing  fields,  have  slowly  widened  their 
range  of  application  from  the  realm  of  individual  psychology 
into  the  realm  of  processes  and  events  which  had  been  the 
domain  of  sociology  and  cultural  anthropology.  It  seems  that 
the  treatment  of  economic  equilibria  by  mathematical  economics, 
although  having  a  different  origin,  is  fully  compatible  with  this 
development. 

The  fusion  of  the  social  sciences  will  make  accessible  to 
economics  the  vast  advantages  which  the  experimental  pro- 
cedure offers  for  testing  theories  and  for  developing  new  in- 
sight. The  combination  of  experimental  and  mathematical  pro- 
cedures which  Cassirer  describes  has  been  the  main  vehicle  for 
the  integration  of  the  study  of  light,  of  electricity,  and  of  the 
other  branches  of  physical  science.  The  same  combination  seems 
to  be  destined  to  make  the  integration  of  the  social  sciences  a 
reality. 

KURT  LEWIN 

MASSACHUSETTS  INSTITUTE  OF  TECHNOLOGY 

14  Substance  and  Function  (Engl.  tr.),  31. 
"/Ml.,  19. 
"Ibid.,  20. 


8 

Robert  S.  Hartman 
CASSIRER'S  PHILOSOPHY  OF  SYMBOLIC  FORMS 


CASSIRER'S  PHILOSOPHY  OF  SYMBOLIC  FORMS 

I  DWELT  on  the  birth  of  the  ego  out  of  the  mythical 
collective.  .  .  .  [The]  ego  detaches  itself  from  the  collec- 
tive in  the  same  way  that  certain  figures  of  Rodin  wrest  them- 
selves out  of  the  stone  and  awaken  from  it."  Thus,  in  a  speech 
at  the  Library  of  Congress,1  Thomas  Mann  described  his 
creation  of  the  Joseph  figures.  In  a  similar  way  Cassirer  could 
have  described — and  did  describe2 — the  birth  of  modern  self- 
consciousness  from  the  matrix  of  pre-historic  myth  and  medi- 
eval metaphysics,  the  creation  of  its  symbolic  forms  out  of  the 
raw  material  of  rites  and  gestures,  the  emergence  of  logical 
functions  from  natural  material,  their  gradual  liberation — and 
therewith  the  self-liberation  of  consciousness — from  sensuous 
encumbrances. 

Symbolic  forms  are  progressive  states  of  the  self-emergence 
of  consciousness.  That  emergence  may  be  followed  in  the  grad- 
ual unfolding  of  metaphysical  thought  into  modern  science — as 
Cassirer  has  shown  in  the  first  three  volumes  of  the  Erkenntnis- 
problem — or  it  may  be  demonstrated  in  the  gradual  unfolding 
of  the  raw  material  and  mirroring  produce  of  the  self -evolving 
consciousness — as  Cassirer  has  done  in  his  Philosofhie  der 
symbolischen  Formen? 

Both  forms  of  presentation  demonstrate  one  and  the  same 
process  of  creative  thought:  in  the  first  case  with  the  emphasis 
on  the  creating  mind,  in  the  second  with  the  emphasis  on  the 
created  form.  As  the  form,  in  its  successive  elaboration,  mirrors 

1  The  Atlantic  Monthly,  February  1943,  97  ff. 
*  Cf.  Erkenntnisfroblem  I,  1 1  f. 

1  All  references  in  this  essay  are  to  that  work,  and  will  be  referred  to  by  PSF, 
unless  otherwise  stated.  The  translations  are  my  own. 

291 


292  ROBERT  S.  HARTMAN 

the  laboring  mind,  so  the  mind,  in  its  successive  effort,  reflects 
the  form  wrought.  In  the  Erkenntnisfroblem  Cassirer  has 
shown  the  work  of  the  objective  spirit  in  its  course;  in  the 
Philosophic  der  symbolischen  Formen  he  has  shown,  in  the 
evolution  of  its  work,  the  course  of  the  objective  spirit.  In  both 
cases  he  stands  at  the  end  of  the  development,  surveying  it  and 
focusing  it  within  his  own  mind,  thus  re-creating  the  energy  of 
cultural  development  and  sculpturing  its  forms  before  our  own 
eyes,  a  philosophical  seer,  whose  visual,  "synoptic"4  view  of 
philosophy — both  in  its  historical  and  conceptual  dimension — 
has  rendered  to  us  in  ontogeny  what  the  objective  spirit  has 
wrought  throughout  generations  in  phylogenic  labor.  Thus 
he  has  created  a  new  symbolic  form,  which  points  beyond  itself 
toward  still  higher  formations.  His  work  for  us,  represents 
what  he  calls  "a  new  Composition*  of  the  world,  which  proceeds 
according  to  specific  standards,  valid  only  for  itself."5  Such  a 
form  "must  be  measured  with  its  own  measure.  The  points  of 
view,  according  to  which  it  is  to  be  judged  .  .  .  must  not  be 
brought  to  it  from  outside,  but  must  be  deduced  from  the 
fundamental  principle  of  its  own  formation."8  No  rigid  meta- 
physical category  must  interfere  with  such  "a  purely  immanent 
beginning." 

Let  us  then  measure  Cassirer  with  his  own  measure.  We 
shall  be  unable,  within  the  limits  of  this  essay,  to  extend  our 
measurements  into  all  the  ramifications  of  the  philosophy  of 
symbolic  forms.  But  we  shall  be  able  to  follow  its  formative 
principle.  From  it  we  shall  deduce,  and  by  it  justify,  our  own 
procedure.  Thus  we  may  hope  to  catch  the  spirit  of  that  great 
work — the  spirit  of  creation  itself. 

The  philosophy  of  symbolic  forms  is  a  philosophy  of  creation. 
The  category  of  creativity  is  the  one  we  shall  apply  to  and 
deduce  from  his  system.  In  order  to  do  so  we  must  first  clear 
the  way  and  determine  his  philosophy  negatively  against  its 
two  poles,  the  raw-material  of  creation  and  the  source  of  the 
creating  act.  The  symbolic  form  is  neither  the  one  nor  the 

4  PSF,  III,  viii. 
•/W,I,iaa. 
'I  but. 


PHILOSOPHY  OF  SYMBOLIC  FORMS  293 

other,  but  represents  the  process  of  creation  itself.  Confinement 
to  the  raw-material  would  lead  to  metaphysics,  confinement  to 
the  source  of  the  creative  act  to  psychology.  Cassirer's  philoso- 
phy is  neither  metaphysics  nor  psychology}  it  is  neither  con- 
cerned with  pure  Being  nor  with  pure  Consciousness,  but  with 
the  context  and  interaction  of  both. 

The  characteristic  and  peculiar  achievement  of  each  symbolic  form — 
the  form  of  language  as  well  as  that  of  myth  or  of  theoretical  cognition — 
is  not  simply  to  receive7  a  given  material  of  impressions  possessing  already 
a  certain  determination,  quality  and  structure,  in  order  to  graft  on  it, 
from  the  outside,  so  to  speak,  another  form  out  of  the  energy  of  con- 
sciousness itself.  The  characteristic  action  of  the  spirit  begins  much 
earlier.  Also,  the  apparently  "given"  is  seen,  on  closer  analysis,  to  be 
already  processed  by  certain  acts  of  either  the  linguistic,  the  mythical, 
or  the  logico-theoretical  "apperception."  It  "is"  only  that  which  it  has 
been  made  into  by  those  acts.  Already  in  its  apparently  simple  and  im- 
mediate states  it  shows  itself  conditioned  and  determined  by  some 
primary  function  which  gives  it  significance.  In  this  primary  formation, 
and  not  in  the  secondary  one,  lies  the  peculiar  secret  of  each  symbolic 
form.8 

Thus  there  is  no  "primary  datum"  underlying  the  creative 
activity  of  consciousness.  Every  primary  datum  is  already 
spiritually9  imbued,  even  the  simplest  spatial  perceptions,  like 
left  and  right,  high  and  low.10  The  same  is  true  of  the  original 
sensuous  perceptions  of  time,  number,  and  causality.  If  these 
categories  were  substantial  elements,  they  could  point  to  an 
absolute  Being}  but  such  a  Being,  presupposed  by  dogmatic 
metaphysics,  does  not  exist.  Our  consciousness  cannot  posit  any 
content  without,  by  that  very  act  of  positing,  setting  a  whole 
complex  of  other  contents.  This  fact  cannot  be  explained  by 
dogmatic  metaphysics  from  the  presupposition  of  an  absolute 
Being  j  on  the  contrary,  the  existence  of  such  a  being  is  contra- 
dicted by  that  very  activity  of  consciousness.11  An  "immediate 

T  In  the  sense  of  the  Platonic  "receptacle." 
*PSF,ll9  120. 

0  The  adjective  "spiritual"  is  used  in  the  sense  of  the  German  "geistig." 
10  PSF,  II,  120. 

"  PSF9  I,  31  f.,  with  reference  to  Kant's  Versuch  die  negatwen  Grossen  in  die 
Weltweisheit  rimuf&hren. 


294  ROBERT  S.  HARTMAN 

datum"  is  already  a  material-spiritual  context,  it  is  a  creatum: 
the  germ  of  a  symbolic  form. 

It  is  obvious,  on  the  other  hand,  that  we  cannot  understand 
the  form  through  insight  into  the  natural  causes  of  its  origina- 
tion, by  the  method  of  psychology  rather  than  that  of  meta- 
physics. What  consciousness  contributes  to  the  form  is  as  im- 
portant as  are  the  contributions  of  the  schemata  of  space,  time, 
and  number;  but  it  is  as  little  real  by  itself  as  are  the  latter. 
There  is  a  third  "formative  determination,"  which  explains  the 
world  of  symbolic  forms  neither  from  the  nature  of  the  abso- 
lute nor  from  the  play  of  empirico-psychological  forces.  Al- 
though that  determination  may  agree  with  the  method  of  psy- 
chology in  acknowledging  the  fact  that  the  subjectum  agens  of 
the  symbolic  forms  is  to  be  found  nowhere  else  than  in  the 
human  consciousness,  it  does  not  necessarily  have  to  take 
consciousness  in  either  its  metaphysical  or  in  its  psychological 
determination — but  in  a  critical  analysis  which  goes  beyond 
both.  "The  modern  critique  of  cognition,  the  analysis  of  the 
laws  and  principles  of  knowledge,  has  freed  itself  more  and 
more  determinedly  from  the  presuppositions  both  of  meta- 
physics and  of  psychologism."12 

Neither  from  the  side  of  an  absolute  being  nor  from  that  of 
consciousness  alone  can  reality  be  comprehended.  Only  in  the 
combination  of  both,  in  the  symbolic  form  as  constituted  by  the 
creative  activity  of  the  spirit,  in  the  produce,  the  autonomous 
creation  of  the  spirit  do  we  have  reality — and  therewith  truth ; 

for  the  highest  truth  which  opens  itself  to  the  spirit  is  finally  the  form  of 
its  own  activity.  In  the  totality  of  its  own  accomplishments  and  the 
cognition  of  the  specific  rules  by  which  each  of  them  is  being  determined, 
as  well  as  in  the  consciousness  of  the  connection  which  combines  all  these 
rules  into  the  unity  of  one  task  and  one  solution:  in  all  this  the  spirit 
possesses  the  knowledge  of  itself  and  of  reality.13 

And  that  knowable  reality  alone  is  real. 

To  the  question  what  absolute  reality  should  be  outside  of  that  totality 
of  spiritual  functions,  what  the  "thing  in  itself"  might  be  in  this  sense — 
to  this  question  there  is  no  further  answer.  It  must  be  understood  more 

"PSF,  II,  I5. 
11 WF, 


PHILOSOPHY  OF  SYMBOLIC  FORMS  295 

and  more  as  a  falsely  put  problem,  a  phantom  of  thought.  The  true 
concept  of  reality  cannot  be  pressed  into  the  abstract  form  of  Being,  but 
becomes  merged  in  the  variety  and  abundance  of  the  forms  of  spiritual 
life  —  a  life  on  which  is  imprinted  the  stamp  of  inner  necessity,  and  there- 
with the  stamp  of  objectivity.  In  this  sense  each  new  "symbolic  form," 
not  only  the  conceptual  world  of  cognition  but  also  the  plastic  world  of 
art,  as  well  as  that  of  myth  and  of  language,  signifies,  in  the  words  of 
Goethe,  a  revelation  from  the  inner  to  the  outer,  a  "synthesis  of  world 
and  spirit,"  which  alone  truly  assures  us  of  the  original  unity  of  both.14 

The  world  of  symbolic  forms  is  the  world  of  life  itself. 
Neither  in  the  primitive  intuition  of  the  spirit15  nor  in  the 
primitive  perception  of  natural  being  can  life  be  comprehended. 
Life  has  left  both  these  states  behind,  it  has  transformed  itself 
into  the  form  of  the  spirit.16  "The  negation  of  the  symbolic 
forms  would  therefore,  instead  of  apprehending  the  fullness  of 
life,  on  the  contrary  destroy  the  spiritual  form,  to  which  that 
fullness  necessarily  is  bound."17 

We  must  not  passively  contemplate  these  spiritual  realities, 
but  put  ourselves  right  into  the  midst  of  their  restless  activity; 
only  thus  shall  we  comprehend  these  realities  not  as  static  con- 
templations of  a  metaphysical  Being  but  as  formative  functions 
and  energies.  In  doing  so  we  shall  discover  in  them,  however 
different  the  "Gestalten"  they  produce,  certain  universal  and 
typical  principles,18  the  principles  of  creation  itself.  Recognizing 
creation  we  become  creative  ourselves:  not  as  dogmatic  meta- 
physicians but  as  artists  vitalized  by  and  vitalizing  our  ma- 
terial. 

Thus,  in  our  interpretation,  Cassirer's  philosophy  is  meta- 
physics as  little  as  Rodin's  figures  are  stone:  if  no  creative  hand 
had  ever  touched  the  stone  it  might  have  remained  stone.  The 
creative  touch  proved  that  mere  "stone"  it  never  was.  If  no 
creative  philosophy  had  ever  liberated  the  spirit  from  the 
mould  of  the  scholastic  system  into  which  it  had  been  "melted 
down,"19  then  metaphyiscs  might  have  remained  metaphysics. 


"  PSF,  1,  48  f. 

M/W,I,5i. 

17  Ibid. 

"«F,I,5i. 

a*  Erkenntnisfroblem,  I,  1  1  . 


296  ROBERT  S.  HARTMAN 

"Only  slowly  the  individual  moments  of  thought,  which  in 
that  system  were  held  together  as  if  by  a  dogmatic  force,  step 
forth  in  freer  movement."20  From  the  intellectual  struggles  of 
the  Renaissance,  to  the  liberating  strike  of  Kant's  Critique  of 
Reason,  to  Cassirer's  "Critique  of  Culture,"21  the  life-giving 
touch  works  on  and  transforms  metaphysics,  until  it  culminates 
in  the  Philosophy  of  Symbolic  Forms.  But  being  capable  of  such 
transformation  it  shows  itself  never  to  have  been  mere  "meta- 
physics." Critical  philosophers,  and  Cassirer  in  particular,  could 
vitalize  metaphysics  as  Rodin  could  the  stone.  It  may  be  instruc- 
tive to  compare  the  nature  of  Cassirer's  material  with  that  of 
Rodin's. 

Rodin's  "stone"  never  was  just  stone.  Rodin  only  knew 
living  surfaces.  These  surfaces  consisted  of  infinitely  many 
movements. 

The  play  of  light  upon  them  made  manifest  that  each  of  these  move- 
ments was  different  and  significant.  At  this  point  they  seemed  to  flow 
into  one  another;  at  that  to  greet  each  other  hesitatingly;  at  a  third  to 
pass  by  each  other  without  recognition,  like  strangers.  There  were 
undulations  without  end.  There  was  no  point  at  which  there  was  not 
life  and  movement.  ...  He  saw  only  innumerable  living  surfaces,  only 
life.22 

Cassirer's  philosophy  never  was  just  metaphysics.23  Meta- 
physics, as  ontology,  is  the  discipline  of  pure  Being,  but  there 
never  was  pure  Being.  In  the  interaction  of  the  thinker's  mind 
with  the  raw  material  of  his  thought  arises  a  new  reality: 
Reality  proper.  That  reality  appears  in  "symbolic  forms"  — 
forms  which  rise  under  the  dynamic  movement  of  thought  like 
Rodin's  figures  under  the  magic  of  his  hands.  Like  on  Rodin's 
surfaces,  the  light  of  reality  plays  on  these  forms,  which  refract 
it  in  a  thousand  manifestations. 

When  one  characterizes  language,  myth,  art,  as  "symbolic  forms," 


MRilke,  Rainer  Maria,  Rodin,  New  York:  The  Fine  Editions  Press,  1945,  n  f. 

9  Somewhat  doubtful  in  this  respect  is  W.  C.  Swabey  in  his  book-report  on 
the  PMlosophie  der  symbolise/ten  Formen,  Philosophical  Review,  vol.  XXXIII, 
No.  2,  1924,  195. 


PHILOSOPHY  OF  SYMBOLIC  FORMS  297 

then  there  seems  to  lie  in  that  expression  the  presupposition  that  all  of 
them,  as  definite  formative  modes  of  the  spirit,  point  back  to  a  last 
primary  layer  of  reality,24  which  is  seen  through  them  only,  like  through 
a  strange  medium.  Reality  seems  to  become  comprehensible  for  us  only 
in  the  particular  state  of  those  forms;  in  them  it  both  conceals  and  re- 
veals itself.  The  same  fundamental  functions  which  give  the  world 
of  the  spirit  its  determination,  its  imprint  and  character,  appear  on  the 
other  hand  as  just  so  many  refractions  which  Reality,  uniform  and 
unique  in  itself,  experiences  as  soon  as  it  is  being  apperceived  and  ap- 
propriated by  the  "subject."  The  philosophy  of  symbolic  'forms  is, 
seen  under  this  point  of  view,  nothing  but  the  attempt  to  indicate  for 
each  of  them,  as  it  were,  the  definite  index  of  refraction.  It  wants  to 
recognize  the  particular  nature  of  the  different  refracting  media.25 

Those  indices  determine  the  activity  of  the  spirit,  defining 
it  in  terms  of  the  "modalities"26  which  the  spirit  assumes  in 
each  particular  medium.  The  life  of  the  spirit  thus  is  "multi- 
dimensional j"27  there  are  undulations  without  end,  movements, 
dynamic  processes.  Like  Rodin's  statues  they  grow  out  of  the 
undifferentiated  sensuous  matrix  into  the  determinacy  of  ob- 
jective thought  —  indeed,  like  Rodin's  own  "Thought,"  a  head 
growing  out  of  the  stone,  or  his  "Thinker,"  shaped  from  him- 
self, pondering  the  abundance  of  forms  crowding  "The  Gate 
of  Hell,"  in  deep  symbolism. 

The  process  of  differentiation  is  a  process  of  objectivation.  As 
Rodin  followed  religiously  the  laws  of  nature,  the  way  he  him- 
self successively  discovered  them,28  so  Cassirer  follows  the  laws 
of  the  spirit  as  he  uncovers  them.  There  are  two  main  laws,  The 
Law  of  Continuity  —  each  phase  is  the  fulfilment  of  the  preced- 
ing one  —  and  The  Law  of  New  Emphasis  —  each  phase  de- 
velops the  preceding  one.29  These,  of  course,  are  nothing  but  the 
laws  of  growth  itself.  As  the  forms  grow  their  "moments" 
change,  their  "accents"  shift.  The  three  stages  or  "dimensions" 

"  Cf.  II,  50. 
*  PSF,  III,  3. 

II,  i6il,9ff,29ff. 


38  Story,  Sommerville,  "Auguste  Rodin  and  His  Work,"  in  Rodin,  New  York: 
Phaidon  Edition,  Oxford  University  Press,  1939,  n. 


298  ROBERT  S.  HARTMAN 

of  shift  are  Expression,  Presentation,  Meaning  (Ausdruck, 
Darstellung,  Bedeutung).  These  stages  are  not  isolated  from 
one  another  but  contain  "points"  at  which  the  forms  flow  into 
one  another,  greet  each  other  hesitatingly  or  pass  each  other 
without  recognition,  like  strangers.  In  the  first  stage,  Expres- 
sion, the  subject  "possesses"  the  environment  as  a  variety  of 
physiognomic  experiences.30  Long  before  there  are  "things" 
there  is  such  structurization  of  experience.  "Existence,"  "re- 
ality," are  at  that  stage  physiognomically  manifest.  The  ab- 
straction of  "pure"  perception,  which  is  the  starting  point  of 
dogmatic  sensualism,  is  here  already  transcended.  The  datum 
which  the  subject  experiences  as  being  "opposite"  to  him  is  here 
transparent  with  inner  life,  not  exterior  or  dumb.  This  is  the 
stage  at  which  myth  and  art  originate,  and  where,  with  hesitat- 
ing greeting,  they  meet  language,  which,  in  the  Sentence,  takes 
up31  and  transcends  that  stage,  setting  the  new  dimension, 
Presentation.  The  sentence,  however,  only  very  gradually 
swings  itself  upward  into  the  new  dimension.  It  remains  bound 
to  the  physiognomic  realm,  substituting  logical  determination 
for  spatial  demonstration.  Only  gradually  it  expands  from  per- 
ceptual and  emotional  perspectives  to  full  objectivation,  in  three 
steps  again:  the  mimic,  where  it  remains  in  the  plastic  world, 
in  the  spatial  meanings  of  the  copula,  the  demonstrative  pro- 
nouns, the  definite  article,  onomatopoetic  formations,  and  the 
rendering  of  the  physiognomic  characters  through  voiced  or 
voiceless  consonants,  higher  or  lower  vowels  j  the  analogic, 
where  in  the  relation  of  sounds  the  relations  of  the  objects  are 
expressed ,  and,  finally,  the  symbolic,  where  all  similarity  be- 
tween the  world  of  language  and  that  of  objects  has  dis- 
appeared. Only  in  this  last  form,  in  the  distance  from  the  lower 
stages,  language  comes  entirely  into  its  own.32  The  three  stages 
of  language  are  thus,  as  it  were,  steps  by  which  the  spirit  passes 
from  the  physiognomic  to  the  presentative  dimension,  and 
beyond  it  into  that  of  meaning. 

Whereas  language  and  mythos  partly  flow  into,  partly  greet 

" PSF,  III,  5245  71. 


PHILOSOPHY  OF  SYMBOLIC  FORMS  299 

each  other,  mythos  and  logos  pass  by  each  other  without  recog- 
nition, like  strangers.  The  scientific  concept  is  past  the  physio- 
gnomic level.83  "Cognition"  implies  distance  from  the  world, 
a  "cut"  between  "nature"  and  the  world  of  feeling.  The  concept 
starts  its  career  on  the  level  of  perception,  where  it  meets 
language,  to  ascend  in  harmony  with  it,  in  order,  finally,  to 
transcend  it  through  three  stages  again,  corresponding  to  the 
three  stages  of  language}  the  mimic,  in  the  platonic  *«pwww« 
from  things  to  ideas,34  with  its  correspondence  between  both; 
the  analogic,  in  Kepler-Galileo-Newtonian  science,  where  the 
correspondence  between  the  world  of  objects  and  that  of  con- 
cepts has  disappeared  in  detail  but  still  persists  in  the  corre- 
spondence of  structures,  especially  in  the  model  of  a 
given  space  j  and  the  symbolic,  in  the  modern  scientific  concept 
with  its  purely  symbolic  "space"  without  any  correspondence  to 
the  perceptual  world.  In  this  last  stage  the  process  of  objectiva- 
tion  is  completed,  the  symbols  stand  freely  and  in  full  self- 
consistent  significance  above  the  raw  material  of  the  world. 
Yet,  they  point  to  it  and  give  it  its  final  and  culminating  mean- 
ing, fulfilling  in  their  lofty  sweep  the  grunt,  the  first  gesture 
of  the  man  of  primal  times. 

Rodin's  "Man  of  Primal  Times"35  shows  precisely  this:  the 
unlimited  promise  of  that  first  gesture,  the  unfolding  of  thought 
from  hand. 

It  indicates  in  the  work  of  Rodin  the  birth  of  gesture.  That  gesture 
which  grew  and  developed  to  such  greatness  and  power,  here  bursts 
forth  like  a  spring  that  softly  ripples  over  this  body.  It  awakens  in  the 
darkness  of  primal  times  and  in  its  growth  seems  to  flow  through  the 
breadth  of  this  work  as  though  reaching  out  from  bygone  centuries  to 
those  that  are  to  come.  Hesitatingly  it  unfolds  itself  in  the  lifted  arms. 
These  arms  are  still  so  heavy  that  the  hand  of  one  rests  upon  the  top  of 
the  head.  But  this  hand  is  roused  from  its  sleep,  it  concentrates  itself 
quite  high  on  the  top  of  the  brain  where  it  lies  solitary.  It  prepares  for 
the  work  of  centuries,  a  work  that  has  no  measure  and  no  end.8e 

"PSF,!!!,  526. 


M  Alsowcalled  "The  Age  of  Bronze." 
*  Rilke,  op.  cittj  24. 


300  ROBERT  S.  HARTMAN 

Gesture  is  the  first  awkward  manifestation  of  the  spontaneity 
of  spirit  which  flowers  forth  in  the  full  bloom  of  the  symbolic 
forms.  In  its  beginning  even  the  primal  forms  of  the  synthetiz- 
ing  function  of  consciousness,87  space,  time,  and  number,  are 
nothing  but  corporeal  motions  "that  softly  ripple  over  the 
body."  Space  arises  from  the  demonstrative  gestures  of  Here 
and  There,  I  and  Thou,  and  expands  in  concentric  circles  around 
the  speaker,  whose  body  is  the  first  system  of  spatial  coordina- 
tion.88 Thomas  Mann's  Joseph  is  still  a  mythical  but  also  already 
an  individual  figure,  as  he  describes  his  own  and  his  Ishmaelite 
fellow  travelers'  universes: 

The  world  hath  many  centres,  one  for  each  created  being,  and  about 
each  one  it  lieth  in  its  own  circle.  Thou  standest  but  half  an  ell  from 
me,  yet  about  thee  lieth  a  universe  whose  centre  I  am  not  but  thou  art. 
.  .  .  And  I,  on  the  other  hand,  stand  in  the  centre  of  mine.  For  our 
universes  are  not  far  from  each  other  so  that  they  do  not  touch;  rather 
hath  God  pushed  them  and  interwoven  them  deep  into  each  other.89 

That  body-space  finally  becomes  the  pure-brain-space  of  mod- 
ern relativity  theory.  Time,  originally  woven  into  the  spatial 
determination  of  Here  and  There  as  Now  and  Then,40  becomes 
the  purely  mental  symbol  of  our  physical  science.  And  number 
itself,  "originally  a  hand  concept,  not  a  thought  concept,"41 
develops  out  of  its  bodily  encumbrance  into  the  lofty  realm  it 
has  so  elaborately  carved  out  today;  now  not  only  a  content 
of  thought  but  even  a  way  of  thinking,42  a  means  of  sharper  and 
sharper  determination  of  the  indeterminate.43 

Thus,  like  filigree  work  chiseled  out  from  heavy  walls,  the 
final  Gestalten  of  the  symbolic  forms  stand  out  in  relief  against 
the  background  of  metaphysics.  The  vertical  "schemata"  of  the 
structure,  reaching  throughout  the  whole  dis-cursus  of  con- 
sciousness,44 are  the  formative  principles:  space,  time,  and 

"PSF,!!!,  1  6. 

MPSF,I,  156. 

89  Mann,  Thomas,  Joseph  in  Egyft,  New  York:  Alfred  A.  Knopf,  1  939,  Vol.  1,  4. 

*P£F,I,  i67ff. 

41  /W,  III,  397- 


*PSF,  III,  468. 


PHILOSOPHY  OF  SYMBOLIC  FORMS  301 

number.  The  horizontal  "dimensions"  are  the  forms  of  expres- 
sion, presentation,  and  meaning.  These  latter  are  principles  of 
differentiation,  carrying  forward  the  relief  into  ever  finer 
ramifications.  Thus  the  creative  activity  of  the  spirit  resembles 
that  of  sculpture  even  in  the  method,  "the  process  of  removal,"45 
to  use  the  words  of  Michelangelo.  The  combination  of  both  the 
horizontal  and  the  vertical  principles  of  formation  are  the  sym- 
bolic forms,  myth,  language,  art,  religion,  theoretical  cognition: 
peculiar  energies  of  the  spirit,46  with  their  own  "modalities" 
and  their  own  particular  "planes  of  reality"  (Seinsebenen)*1  — 
their  own  position  and  Gestalt  on  the  metaphysical  background. 
Their  ultimate  refinement  has  lost  all  semblance  to  its  meta- 
physical matrix,  just  as  filigree  on  a  wall,  or  a  sculptured  hand 
by  Rodin,  have  lost  all  semblance  to  their  own  concrete  ma- 
terial. It  has  lost  almost  even  the  texture  of  the  background. 
It  is  pure  symbol  —  either  script,  as  the  filigree  on  the  walls  of 
the  Alhambra  of  Granada,  or  something  sui  generis,  as  a  mem- 
ber sculptured  by  Rodin.  "A  hand  laid  on  another's  shoulder 
or  thigh  does  not  any  more  belong  to  the  body  from  which  it 
came  —  from  this  body  and  from  the  object  which  it  touches 
or  seizes  something  new  originates,  a  new  thing  that  has  no 
name  and  belongs  to  no  one."48  It  is  a  symbol. 

The  symbol,  though  of  sensuous  material,  yet  transcends 
that  materiality  and  points  toward  a  content  in  the  higher 
forms  of  Meaning.  Its  materiality  is  completely  absorbed,  in 
that  function  of  meaning,49  its  "symbolic  pragnanz."™  It  is 
subjected  under  the  sensuous;  yet  that  subjection  is  at  the  same 
time  freedom  from  the  sensuous.51  The  capacity  of  the  sen- 
suous material  to  point  toward  a  world  of  meanings,  to 
symbolize  it  without  co-inciding  with  it  —  this  clothing  of  the 
sensuous  with  ideal  meaning  is  indeed  "das  Mysterium  des 

45  Cf.  II,  2  89*  Erkenntnisfroblem  I,  5  f. 


,, 

*PSF,l,  28  f. 
48  Rilke,  op.  «/.,  30. 


"PSF,  III,  234.  The  similarity  of  Cassirer's  terminology  with  that  of  Gestalt 
psychology  is  a  conscious  one.  Symbolic  forms  are  "Gestaltcn." 
,  41. 


302  ROBERT  S.  HARTMAN 

Wirkens  schlechthin"**  the  mystery  of  creative  activity  far 
excellence.  It  cannot  suddenly  accrete  to  the  sensitive  faculty 
out  of  nothing,  but  must  be  part  of  the  very  nature  of  that 
faculty  from  its  first  beginnings.  There  is,  in  the  sensuous 
itself, 

to  use  an  expression  of  Goethe,  an'  "exact  sensuous  imagination,"  which 
appears  active  in  the  most  diverse  realms  of  spiritual  and  mental  creativity. 
Each  of  these  realms  gives  rise,  as  the  true  vehicle  of  its  own  immanent 
process,  beside  and  above  the  world  of  perception,  to  a  free  world  of 
images,  a  world  which  in  its  immediate  quality  still  bears  the  hue  of 
the  sensuous,  but  that  sensuousness  is  formed  and  therewith  spiritually 
dominated.  We  do  not  encounter  the  sensuous  as  a  simple  datum,  but  as 
a  system  of  sensuous  varieties,  which  are  being  produced  in  all  kinds  of 
free  creation.53 

In  other  words,  not  only  is  there  no  absolute  metaphysical  Be- 
ing, there  is,  on  the  other  hand,  not  even  an  absolutely  given 
sensuous  perception.  The  network  of  meanings  is  present  in 
germ,  in  f>otentiay  in  the  first  ripples  of  expression.  Already  then 
there  is  not  only  the  substance  of  the  material,  but  also  the 
function  of  meaning  in  it.  "The  fundamental  function  of  mean- 
ing is  there  before  the  positing  of  the  individual  sign,  so  that 
in  that  positing  that  function  is  not  created  but  only  fixated, 
only  applied  to  an  individual  case."54  Substance  and  function, 
material  and  meaning,  the  sensuous  and  the  "intelligible"  are 
originally  fused  in  the  unity  of  primary  symbols.  As  the 
process  of  objectivation,  of  spiritualization  continues,  the  sub- 
stantial is  gradually  chiseled  off,  "in  a  process  of  removal," 
and  the  functional  appears  in  greater  and  greater  purity.  But 
substance  and  function  never  lose  their  mutual  interdependence 
— the  filigree  of  the  Alhambra  is  still  on  the  wall,  and  Rodin's 
sculptured  hand  is  still  of  bronze.  That  primary  fusion  in  the 
symbolic,  this  primacy  of  the  symbolic  junction,  is  the  secret 
of  all  symbolic  forms  and  all  spiritual  activity.  There  is  no  Out- 
side or  Inside  here,  no  Before  or  After,  nothing  Active  or  Pas- 
sive. Here  we  have  a  union  of  elements,  which  did  not  have 


11  POT,  m,  119. 

"POT, I,  19  f. 
"  POT,  I,  41. 


PHILOSOPHY  OF  SYMBOLIC  FORMS  303 

to  be  constructed,  but  was  a  primary  meaningful  whole  which 
belongs  only  to  itself  and  interprets  itself  alone.  In  the  fusion 
of  body  and  soul  we  have  the  paradigm  and  prototype  of  such 
a  relation.55 

The  moments  of  succession,  as  we  find  them  in  space  and 
time,  the  connections  of  conditions  such  that  the  one  appears  as 
"thing,"  the  other  as  "quality,"  the  connection  of  successive 
events  such  that  the  one  appears  as  cause,  the  other  as  effect: 
all  these  are  examples  of  how  the  original  fusion  is  gradually 
loosened  and  ramified.  At  the  end  of  the  development  stands 
modern  man,  his  intellect  almost  disengaged  from  his  sensuous 
and  social86  background.  Not  without  reason  Cassirer's  last 
published  work  had  to  be  An  Essay  on  Man. 

The  principles  of  formation,  present  in  the  gestures  of  the 
man  of  primal  times,  brought  about  the  intellect  of  the  man 
of  modern  times.  The  hand  resting  on  the  brain  of  Rodin's 
figure  symbolizes  the  entire  power  of  that  primal  gesture. 
That  hand  does  not  rest  there  any  more — it  has  emancipated 
itself  in  the  actions  of  that  brain,87  from  which  proceeded  both 
modern  science  and  technology,  more  like  Ares  than  Athene. 
In  the  Critical  philosophy  the  threads  had  been  laid  bare  by 
which  intellect  is  knitted  to  perception.  For  Kant  "the  intellect 
is  the  simple  transcendental  expression  for  the  fundamental 
phenomenon  that  all  perception,  as  conscious,  always  and  neces- 
sarily must  be  jormed  perception."58  In  Cassirer's  philosophy 
the  threads  are  traced  back  to  their  very  origin  in  the  original 
skein  of  cultural  life:  the  critique  of  reason  is  expanded  and 
empirically  substantiated  in  Cassirer's  critique  of  culture.  But, 
after  showing  the  entire  many-branched  labyrinth  of  man's 
development  to  modernity,  Cassirer  focuses  on  the  hero  him- 
self, a  modern  Theseus,  who  has  left  the  guiding  hand  of 
nature  and,  at  the  end  of  his  course,  encounters  a  monster,  the 
master  of  the  maze,  the  Minotaur  of  Machinery,  ready  to  de- 
vour him.  Will  man  slay  it  or  will  he  be  slain? 

55  PSF,  in,  117. 

M  Originally  spatial. 

OT  PSF,  II,  266:  Technology  as  "organ  projection." 

"  PSF,  III,  2124. 


304  ROBERT  S.  HARTMAN 

It  all  depends  on  whether  the  original  power  of  symboliza- 
tion  is  still  living  in  him.  For  symbolization  is  power.  Rodin's 
sculptured  limbs  are  creations  of  a  powerful  energy  which  has 
appropriated  the  material  and  bent  it  to  its  will.  The  power  of 
symbolization  is  a  power  of  concentration  and  condensation,  a 
Kraft  der  Verdichtung™  active  in  all  symbolic  forms.  "It  is  as  if 
through  the  creation  of  the  new  symbol,  a  tremendous  energy 
of  thought  is  being  transformed  from  a  relatively  diffuse  into 
more  concentrated  form."80  That  energy  is  the  spontaneity,  the 
creative  freedom  of  the  spirit,  a  freedom  not  arbitrary,  but 
producing  within  the  modalities  of  the  symbolic  forms.161  It  is  a 
power  which  contains  within  itself  the  entire  force  of  cultural 
evolution — the  symbol  concentrates  in  one  intense  moment  the 
entire  cultural  energy,  diffuse  in  its  manifold  forms  from  past 
to  future:  a  "revelation  in  the  material."62  Man  will  slay  the 
monster,  if  he  has  the  power  of  the  symbol:  to  find  his  way 
back  to  nature  and  at  the  same  time  to  look  forward  into  the 
future,  if  he  is  able  to  concentrate  and  symbolically  to  divine 
past  and  future  in  the  present.  He  must  become  a  prophet: 
a  symbol  himself  of  his  own  origin  and  destination.63 

For  us  Cassirer  was  such  a  "symbolic  man,"  and  so  was 
Rodin.  Both  knew  the  nature  and  power  of  the  symbol.  Rodin 
saw  man  himself  as  a  symbol.  "When  I  have  a  beautiful  wom- 
an's body  as  a  model,  the  drawings  I  make  of  it  also  give  me 
pictures  of  insects,  birds,  and  fishes.  That  seems  incredible  and 
I  did  not  know  it  myself  until  I  found  out."84  Cassirer  found 
a  similarly  incredible  content  in  the  "symbolic  forms"  of  the 
spirit.  Each  of  them  symbolizes  the  totality  of  cultural  evolu- 
tion. Consciousness  cannot  posit  anything  without  positing 
every  thing  j  in  the  Goethean  words,  often  quoted  by  Cassirer, 

Truly  the  mental  fleece 
Resembles  a  weaver's  masterpiece, 

**PSF,  III,  466. 

60  Ibid. 

"PSF,e.g.  I,  20. 

"PSF,  I,  46. 

M  Cf.  Essay  on  Many  55,  61. 

**  Story,  op.  tit.,  14  f. 


PHILOSOPHY  OF  SYMBOLIC  FORMS  305 

Where  a  thousand  threads  one  treadle  throws, 
Where  fly  the  shuttles  hither  and  thither 
Unseen  the  threads  are  knit  together, 
And  an  infinite  combination  grows. 

The  symbol,  the  material  content  clothed  with  the  ideal  mean- 
ing of  the  whole  infinite  composition,  is  therefore  the  "natural" 
product  of  consciousness,  the  symbolic  function  its  natural  func- 
tion. A  healthy  consciousness  must  in  every  act,  to  the  degree 
and  extent  of  that  act,  shuttle  back  and  forth  throughout  the 
aeons  of  cultural  development  and  knit  all  of  them  into  the 
act.  To  the  degree  that  it  achieves  this  it  is  free  from  its  sensuous 
origins:  it  is  human.  The  essence  of  humanity  is  a  free  con- 
sciousness, roaming  widely  over  cultural  space  and  time.  "Hu- 
man culture  taken  as  a  whole  may  be  described  as  the  process 
of  man's  progressive  self-liberation.'*65  The  more  symbolic  an 
act,  therefore,  the  more  it  is  a  truly  human  act.  The  more  it 
presents  a  cultural  content,  the  more  it  must  represent  all 
culture.  Ethically  as  well  as  epistemologically,  the  develop- 
ment of  presentation  is  progressive  representation.  Man's  self- 
liberation  proceeds  proportionately  to  his  capacity  for  symbolic 
representation.  Representation  is  the  act  of  manifesting  spiritual 
energy  in  sensuous  material.  It  is  the  fundamental  function  of 
consciousness,  exhibited  in  the  primal  gesture  of  the  savage  as 
well  as  in  the  mathematical  analysis  of  the  man  of  advanced 
studies.  Between  both  activities  is  a  difference  of  degree,  but 
not  of  kind.  In  all  intellectual  activity  this  function  is  being 
applied,  or  rather,  all  intellectual  activity  is  this  function.  Only 
in  human  behavior  it  is  not  yet  manifest}  only  man  himself 
has  not  yet  become  a  symbol  unto  himself.  In  the  social  sphere 
the  relationship  between  symbol  and  reality  has  not  yet  been 
found.  It  must  be  found}  social  reality  must  be  filled  with 
symbolic  meaning.  Thus  the  tension  between  symbol  and 
reality66  would  be  consummated.  The  other  alternative  of  con- 
summation would  be  the  effacement  of  man,  the  flattening  out 
of  the  spirited  ripple  that  rose  as  form  over  the  faceless  deep. 
The  differentiation  of  the  formless,  similar  to  the  structuriza- 

85  Essay  on  Man,  228. 


306  ROBERT  S.  HARTMAN 

tion  of  the  Awpov  by  the  ™9<*S  or  the  articulation  of  5Xi)  by  \MW 
—  this  is  the  function  of  Form  in  Cassirer's  philosophy  (even 
though  limited  to  the  field  of  human  culture  and  on  the  level 
of  transcendental  correlation  rather  than  that  of  metaphysical 
opposition,  as  it  was  in  the  philosophies  of  Plato  and  Aristotle 
and  later  in  that  of  Hegel).67  Form  is  not  a  static  thing,  a  shape, 
but  a  dynamic  principle,  the  totality  of  characters  that  transform 
sensuous  impressions  into  intellectual  and  spiritual  expressions." 
In  its  totality  alone  the  form  finds  truth}  truth  is  the  whole  — 
herein  Cassirer  agrees  with  Hegel,  calling  part  of  his  own 
philosophy  a  "Phenomenology  of  Cognition."09 

The  end,  the  "telos"  of  the  spirit  cannot  be  comprehended  or  pro- 
nounced, if  one  takes  it  by  itself,  severed  from  its  beginning  and  middle. 
Philosophical  reflection  does  not  in  this  way  set  off  the  end  against 
middle  and  beginning,  but  takes  all  three  as  integral  moments  of  one 
unique  total  movement.70 

In  this  total  context,  then,  every  element  of  the  form,  every 
one  of  its  "differentials"71  is  representative  of  the  whole.  As  for 
Rodin  the  beauty  of  the  woman  is  representative  of  all  creation, 
so  for  Cassirer  the  characteristic  of  one  cultural  unit,  whether 
a  vowel  in  language,  a  ritual  in  religion  or  an  algorithm  in 
mathematics,  mirrors  monadlike72  the  whole  universe  of  forms. 
As  Rodin's  model  is  an  end  product  of  evolution,  but  as  such 
again  a  middle  term  between  the  universal  premise  of  evolution 
and  the  conclusion  drawn  by  Rodin's  pencil,  so  the  symbolic 
unit  is  an  end  of  the  formative  development  preceding  it,  but 
also  a  mediator  between  that  development  and  Cassirer's  con- 
ception of  it.  At  the  same  time  these  units  are  mediators  be- 
tween the  preceding  and  successive  stages,  and  focal  points  of 
the  entire  development. 

The  form  of  sensuous  reality  is  based  on  the  fact  that  the  individual 
moments  of  which  it  is  built  up  do  not  stand  by  themselves,  but  that 

OTCf.  PSF,  III,  13,  230,  and  infra  312  ff.,  322. 
,  12. 


,  I,  40}  III,  235- 
,  102. 


PHILOSOPHY  OF  SYMBOLIC  FORMS  307 

between  them  takes  place  a  peculiar  relation  of  "corn-positing"  (Mit- 
setzung).  Nowhere  is  here  anything  isolated  and  detached.  Even  that 
which  seems  to  belong  to  a  certain  single  spatial  point  or  temporal 
moment,  does  not  remain  immersed  in  the  mere  Here  and  There.  It 
reaches  beyond  itself  into  the  totality  of  all  empirical  contents.73 

The  higher  reality  unfolds  itself,  the  richer  its  pattern  be- 
comes and  the  fuller  of  symbolic  functions  will  be  the  contents 
that  offer  themselves  to  consciousness. 

The  farther  that  process  continues,  the  wider  a  circle  consciousness  is 
able  to  span  in  a  single  moment.  Each  of  its  elements  is  now  saturated, 
as  it  were,  with  such  functions.  It  stands  in  varied  meaningful  contexts, 
which  again  are  connected  and  which,  by  virtue  of  that  connection, 
constitute  a  whole,  which  we  denote  as  the  world  of  our  "experience." 
Whatever  contexts  one  may  isolate  from  this  totality  of  "experience" 
.  .  .  always  their  orders  will  show  a  definite  structure  and  a  common 
fundamental  character.  They  are  of  such  a  nature,  that  from  everyone 
of  their  moments  a  transition  is  possible  to  the  whole,  just  as  the  con- 
stitution of  the  whole  is  presentable  and  presented  in  every  moment.74 

Every  phenomenon  is  now  only  a  letter  within  the  script  of 
total  reality.75 

Thus  it  is  possible  to  span  the  whole  world  in  a  moment. 
Physical  science  is  doing  that,  comprehending  the  totality  of 
events  by  representing  each  event  through  its  four  space-time 
coordinates  and  reducing  the  variation  of  these  coordinates  to 
(more  or  less)  final  invariant  laws/8  It  thus  obtains  what  science 
calls  the  "truth"  of  the  phenomena,  which  is  nothing  else  but 
their  totality,  "taken  not  in  their  concrete  state  but  in  the  form 
of  an  ideal  coordination"™  That  coordination  is  based  both 
on  logical  connections  and  logical  distinctions,  on  synthesis 
as  well  as  analysis.  The  higher  a  symbol,  that  is  to  say  the  more 
numerous  and  the  more  complex  the  phenomena  it  refers  to, 
the  more  different  will  be  its  own  form,  its  shape,  from  that 
of  the  phenomena  themselves,  and  the  greater  the  "distance" 


l,  80. 
"Ibid. 


308  ROBERT  S.  HARTMAN 

between  the  sensuous  and  the  symbolic  content  of  consciousness 
—  but  the  greater  that  "distance"  the  greater,  because  the  more 
comprehensive,  the  more  "universal,"  will  be  the  "truth."  Fi- 
nally the  symbol  contains  nothing  but  the  'principle  of  the  forms 
it  represents,  the  constitutive  law  of  their  structure,  the  genetic 
essence  of  their  formation.  It  thus  refers  not  to  the  similarity  of 
the  forms,  but  to  their  inner  connective  law,  which  may  or  may 
not  express  itself  in  similarities  of  form.78  Thus  the  common 
constructive  principle  of  the  conic  sections  is  not  betrayed  in 
any  similarity  of  shape.  Again  we  are  reminded  of  Rodin,  who 
in  all  his  work  looked  for  the  latent  principles  of  natural  move- 
ment. "Such  was  the  basis  of  what  is  called  my  Symbolism. 
I  do  not  mind  being  called  a  Symbolist,  if  that  will  define  the 
essential  principle  of  sculpture."79  It  was  not  enough  for  Rodin 
to  study  nature  and  follow  it  so  closely  that  "The  Man  of 
Primal  Times"  was  suspected  to  be  cast  from  the  living  model. 
He  tried  to  find  the  principle  of  movement  —  by  what  he  called 
a  method  of  "logical  exaggeration."  "My  aim  was  then,  after 
the  'Burghers  of  Calais,'  to  find  ways  of  exaggerating  logi- 
cally."80 Indeed,  what  could  be  sensuously  as  well  as  significantly 
more  expressive  than  calling  ellipse,  parabola  and  hyperbola 
"logical  exaggerations"  of  the  circle! 

Logical  exaggeration  consists,  among  other  things,  in  the 
"constant  reduction  of  the  face  to  a  geometrical  figure,  and  the 
resolve  to  sacrifice  every  part  of  the  face  to  the  synthesis  of  its 
aspect,"81  that  is  to  say,  the  totality  of  its  features.  That  totality 
is  sometimes  enhanced  by  subtraction. 

Take  the  Cathedral  of  Chartres  as  an  example:  one  of  its  towers  is 
massive  and  without  ornamentation,  having  been  neglected  in  order 
that  the  exquisite  delicacy  of  the  other  could  be  better  seen.  In  sculpture 
the  projection  of  the  sheaths  of  muscles  must  be  accentuated,  the  shorten- 
ings heightened,  the  holes  made  deeper.  Scultpure  is  the  art  of  the  hole 
and  the  lump.82 


I,  88. 

70  Story,  op.  cit.,  14. 
* 


J  bid. 
"Ibid. 
"Ibid. 


PHILOSOPHY  OF  SYMBOLIC  FORMS  309 

The  "process  of  removal"  thus  is  a  succession  of  dialectic  steps 
in  the  totality  of  the  form's  movement. 

Not  in  continuous  quantitative  accretion,  but  in  the  sharpest  dialectic 
contradiction  the  various  fundamental  ideas  oppose  each  other  in  the 
truly  critical  epochs  of  cognition.  .  .  ,88  The  myth  [e.g.,]  would  not  be 
a  truly  spiritual  form,  if  its  unity  were  nothing  but  oppositionless  sim- 
plicity. .  .  ,  The  individual  stages  of  its  development  do  not  simply 
join  themselves  one  to  the  other,  but  often  oppose  each  other  in  sharp 
contrast.  The  process  consists  in  the  fact  that  certain  fundamental  traits, 
certain  spiritual  determinations  of  the  preceding  stages  are  not  only 
elaborated  and  supplemented,  but  are  also  being  negated,  indeed  an- 
nihilated.84 

Whatever  obstructs  the  law  of  process  of  the  total  form  is  being 
eliminated.  The  symbol  itself  cannot  contain  anything  that  is  not 
part  of  the  totality:  it  shows  "hole  and  lump."  It  is  not  similar 
to  the  symbolized  content,  but  somehow  in  its  shape  is  found  the 
principle  of  the  totality  of  the  represented  forms,  visible  to  the 
eye  of  the  synoptic  seer,  whether  he  be  of  plastic  imagination 
like  Rodin  or  of  philosophical  imagination  like  Cassirer.  Some 
day,  perhaps,  a  logic  of  symbolic  forms  will  be  written,  based 
on  the  combined  insight  of  both  philosopher  and  artist. 

That  logic  would  have  to  be  symbolic  of  the  entire  fullness  of 
life,  its  symbolism  saturated  with  live  meanings  and  not  "sick- 
lied o'er  with  the  pale  cast"  of  positivism.  Cassirer's  philosophy 
of  symbolic  forms  is  such  a  truly  symbolic  logic,  culminating, 
as  it  does,  in  the  symbols  of  mathematics,  the  "logic  of  inven- 
tion," as  it  was  called  both  by  Galileo  and  Leibniz.  But  Cas- 
sirer's  "Ansatz"  the  method  and  tendency  of  his  work,  points 
further:  to  an  expansion  of  his  method  into  the  very  field  of  the 
arts,  into  a  logical  symbolism  or  symbolic  logic  of  painting  and 
sculpture  as  well  as  of  music,  thus,  in  due  time,  to  a  method 
which  will  make  these  forms  of  consciousness  as  definitely  and 
determinedly  symbolic  of  life's  fullness — maybe  even  in  the 
form  of  communication85 — as  now  are  the  "rational"  signs  of 

88  Erkenntnisproblem,  I,  5. 
MP£F,  II,  289.  Cf.  infra  879  f. 

85  Cf .  Langer,  Susanne  K.,  Philosophy  in  a  New  Key,  Cambridge,  Mass. :  Har- 
vard University  Press,  1942,  2i8fL,  and  passim. 


3io  ROBERT  S.  HARTMAN 

language  and  mathematics.  Seen  under  this  view,  not  of  eternity 
but  of  long  term  development,  Cassirer's  "phenomenology  of 
cognition"  is  as  much  a  precursor  of  a  new  logic  as  was  HegePs 
phenomenology  —  only  in  a  much  wider  sense,  comparable,  per- 
haps, to  Leibniz'  divined  rather  than  elaborated  scientia  gener- 
alis  as  a  precursor  of  modern  mathematical  science. 

Indeed,  in  its  emphasis  on  the  totality  of  the  formative 
process  Cassirer's  philosophy  agrees  with  HegePs  phenome- 
nology; in  its  emphasis  on  the  fullness  of  life  it  draws  inspiration 
from  Leibniz'  scientia  generalis.  With  Hegel  he  has  only  the 
"Ansatz"9*  in  common;  HegePs  phenomenology  "finally,  so  to 
speak,  sharpens  itself  into  a  highest  logical  point.  .  .  .  How  rich 
and  varied  ever  its  content,  its  structure  is  subject  to  a  single 
and  in  a  way  uniform  law."87  The  logic  to  which  Cassirer  points 
is  a  logic  of  creation,  a  logic  of  invention  in  a  sense  much  wider 
even  than  that  divined  by  Galileo  and  Leibniz  —  as  wide  and 
varied,  in  fact,  as  life  itself.  The  structure  of  his  work  does 
not  suffer  from  HegePs  shortcomings,  from  compression  into 
a  too  narrow  scheme.  On  the  contrary,  if  criticism  is  in  order, 
Cassirer's  work  seems  almost  too  little  inhibited,  too  artfully 
rambling  at  times  in  the  fascinating  regions  it  discloses,  the 
style  too  ornamental  sometimes  to  be  fully  effectful.88  It  is  a 
work  of  art,  full  of  life,  showing,  as  does  Rodin's  work,  "life  in 
movement."89  For  Rodin  it  is  the  life  of  natural  forms,  for 
Cassirer  the  life  of  cultural  forms.  Rodin  had  nude  models 
moving  about  in  his  studio, 

to  supply  him  constantly  with  the  picture  of  nudity  in  various  attitudes 
and  with  all  the  liberty  of  ordinary  life.  He  was  constantly  looking  at 
them,  and  thus  was  always  familiar  with  the  spectacle  of  muscles  in 


88  In  contrast,  for  example,  to  the  condensed  imagery  of  Bergson.  HegePs  often 
atrocious  German  cannot  be  compared  to  the  elegance  of  Cassirer's  style.  Although 
Cassirer  was  not  as  electrifying  a  personality  as  was  Bergson,  he  was  an  absorbingly 
interesting  lecturer.  His  classrooms,  as  one  of  his  students  expressed  it,  "seemed 
to  be  the  halls  where  there  was  no  life  but  the  life  of  thought.  In  his  lectures  the 
spirit  itself  seemed  to  speak  to  the  brains  of  men."  This  is  a  far  cry  from  the  utter 
dryness  of  HegePs  presentation,  the  effect  of  which  seems  to  have  been  one  of  the 
riddles  of  his  time  (not  only  to  Schopenhauer). 

w  Story,  of  cit.t  9. 


PHILOSOPHY  OF  SYMBOLIC  FORMS  311 

movement.  Thus  the  nude,  which  today  people  rarely  see,  and  which 
even  sculptors  only  see  during  the  short  period  of  the  pose,  was  for 
Rodin  an  ordinary  spectacle.  .  .  .  The  face  is  usually  regarded  as  the 
only  mirror  of  the  soul,  and  mobility  of  features  is  supposed  to  be  the 
only  exteriorization  of  spiritual  life.  But  in  reality  there  is  not  a  muscle 
of  the  body  which  does  not  reveal  thoughts  and  feelings.90 

Only  the  highest  functions  of  the  human  mind  seem  to  express 
the  creativity  of  the  spirit}  Kant,  and  in  a  way  even  Hegel,  as 
well  as  most  of  the  post-Kantian  philosophers  before  Cassirer, 
were  interested  in  them  mainly.  Even  Cassirer  demonstrated 
the  creativeness  of  thought  first  in  its  highest  functions,  in  the 
field  of  abstract  science.91  Only  gradually  he  worked  down  from 
the  brain  to  the  lower  and  lowlier  parts  of  the  body,  finally  to 
the  gestures  of  the  members,  the  movement  of  the  muscles, 
until  the  entire  body  of  man  stood  before  his  eyes  vibrating 
with  spiritual  life.  All  the  forms  of  that  life  were  then  con- 
stantly before  his  view;  for  over  thirty  years  he  constantly 
looked  at  them.  He  seemed,  like  Rodin,  "obsessed  by  a  sort  of 
divine  intoxication  for  form."92  "The  living  motion  of  the  spirit 
must  be  apprehended  in  its  actuality,  in  the  very  energy  of  its 
movement."93  "Procedere"  is  only  apprehensible  through  proc- 
ess, in  its  Fortgang.  Only  by  constantly  following  the  forms  of 
the  spirit  and  sculpturing  them  in  their  process  can  one  appre- 
hend them. 

The  true,  the  concrete  totality  of  the  spirit  must  not  be  denoted  in  a 
simple  formula  at  the  beginning  and  so  to  speak  presented  ready  made, 
but  it  develops,  it  finds  itself  only  in  the  constantly  advancing  process94 
of  critical  analysis  itself.95 

Just  as  the  eyes  of  the  sculptor  must  follow  his  models'  mo- 
tions constantly  and  apprehend  them  in  motor  empathy,  so  the 
spirit  itself,  as  analysis,  must  follow  the  "stetig  weiterschrei- 

90  Story,  op.  cit.y  13. 

91  In  Substance  and  Function. 
"Story,  of.  cit.t  26. 


""Im  stetig  weiterschreitenden  Fortgang."  The  translation  cannot  render  the 
plastic  expressiveness  of  Cassirer's  style. 

"PSFJy    10. 


312  ROBERT  S.  HARTMAN 

tenden  Fortgang?  "the  steadily  further  striding  onwalking," 
of  the  symbolic  forms  —  parading  before  the  philosopher's  eyes 
like  models  before  the  artist.  "The  perimeter  of  spiritual  reality 
can  be  designated,  defined  and  determined  only  by  pacing  it 
.off  in  the  process."96  The  whole  of  the  objective  spirit  thus 
reveals  itself  gradually  as  an  organic  unity,  steadily  growing 
and  developing  in  a  "definite  systematic  scale,  an  ideal  progress, 
as  the  end  of  which  may  be  stated  that  the  spirit  in  its  own 
formations  and  self-created  symbols  not  only  is  and  lives,  but 
that  it  comprehends  them  as  they  are."07  In  this  respect  again 
the  philosophy  of  symbolic  forms  connects  with  HegePs  phe- 
nomenology: "the  end  of  development  consists  in  the  com- 
prehension and  expression  of  spiritual  reality  not  only  as  sub- 
stance, but  'just  as  much  as  subject'."98  But  there  is  an  important 
difference  between  HegePs  and  Cassirer's  phenomenology, 
which  can  be  illustrated  by  Cassirer's  attitude  toward  HegePs 
historical  theory. 

The  concept  of  a  history  of  science  contains  the  idea  of  the  conservation 
of  a  universal  logical  structure  in  the  succession  of  particular  conceptual 
systems.  Indeed:  if  the  earlier  content  of  thought  would  not  be  con- 
nected with  the  succeeding  one  by  some  identity,  there  would  be  nothing 
to  justify  our  comprising  the  scattered  logical  fragments  then  at  hand, 
in  a  series  of  becoming  events.  Each  historical  series  of  evolution  needs 
a  "subject"  as  a  substratum  in  which  to  present  and  exteriorize  itself. 
The  mistake  of  the  metaphysical  theory  of  history  lies  not  in  the  fact 
that  it  demands  such  a  subject,  but  in  the  fact  that  it  reifies  it,  by  speak- 
ing of  the  self-development  of  an  "Idea,"  a  progress  of  the  "World 
Spirit,"  and  so  on.  We  must  renounce  such  reified  carrier  standing 
behind  the  historical  movement;  the  metaphysical  formula  must  be 
changed  into  a  methodological  formula.  Instead  of  a  common  sub- 
stratum we  only  demand  an  intellectual  continuity  in  the  individual 
phases  of  development." 

That  is  to  say,  just  as  the  sculptor  is  not  interested  in  the  per- 
sonality of  his  models  as  such,  but  in  their  symbolic  significance 
for  the  laws  of  nature,  so  the  philosopher  of  symbolic  forms 
"ibid. 


"Ibid. 

*  Erkenntnisfroblem,  I,  16.  Italics  mine. 


PHILOSOPHY  OF  SYMBOLIC  FORMS  313 

is  not  interested  in  the  subject  matter  of  the  forms  as  such, 
but  only  their  significance  for  the  whole  context  in  which  they 
appear.  "It  is  the  task  of  philosophy  .  .  .  again  and  again,  from 
a  concrete  historical  aggregate  of  certain  scientific  concepts  and 
principles  to  set  forth  the  universal  logical  functions  of  cogni- 
tion in  general."100  In  this  respect  the  histories  of  science  and  of 
philosophy  are  two  aspects  of  one  and  the  same  intellectual 
process,  for  which  Galileo  and  Kepler,  Newton  and  Euler  are 
just  as  valid  witnesses  as  Descartes  or  Leibniz.101  The  process 
is  an  empirical  logical,  not  a  metaphysical  logical  process.  It  is 
the  historical  process  by  which  the  cultural  realities  have 
evolved. 

From  the  sphere  of  sensation  to  that  of  perception,  from  perception  to 
conceptual  thinking,  and  from  that  again  to  logical  judgment  there 
leads,  for  critical  epistemology,  one  steady  road.  Each  later  moment 
comprises  the  earlier,  each  earlier  prepares  the  later.  All  the  elements 
constituting  cognition  refer  both  to  themselves  and  the  "object."  Sen- 
sation, perception,  are  in  germ  already  comprehension,  judgment,  con- 
clusion.102 

Neither  in  the  treatment  of  the  philosophical  systems  nor 
in  that  of  the  cultural  forms  is  Cassirer  concerned  with  estab- 
lishing a  metaphysical  subjective  idealism.  He  is  not  dogmatic 
in  any  way  5  the  dogmatic  systems  of  metaphysics  are  in  most 
cases  nothing  but 

hypostases  of  certain  logical,  aesthetical,  or  religious  principles.  The  more 
they  seclude  themselves  into  the  abstract  generality  of  principle,  the 
more  they  preclude  themselves  from  other  sides  of  spiritual  culture  and 
the  concrete  totality  of  its  forms.103 

With  that  totality  Cassirer  is  concerned,  in  it  he  finds  intellec- 
tual creativity  active.  The  existence  of  such  creativeness  thus 
becomes  for  him  not  a  matter  of  principle  —  even  though  orig- 
inally it  was  a  postulate104  —  but  a  question  of  fact.  In  the  rich- 
ness of  that  concrete  totality  he  finds,  through  the  ingenious 

100  ibid. 

101  Erkenntnisproblem,  I,  i  o. 


*  Erkenntnisfroblem,  1,  1  8. 


314  ROBERT  S.  HARTMAN 

interpretation  of  the  symbolic  function,  a  whole  systematic  of 
the  spirit,  where  each  particular  form  receives  its  meaning  pure- 
ly by  the  position  it  has  within  the  system,  a  kind  of  periodic 
system  of  cultural  forms.  Only  that  system  is  never  closed,  but 
ever  active,  ever  in  process,105  reality  thus  never  being  but 
ever  becoming,  the  ideal  goal  of  the  process  rather  than  the 
process  itself. 

Being  concerned  with  the  universal  meaning  in  concrete  re- 
ality rather  than  in  an  abstract  principle,  which  would  only 
detract  from  that  meaning,  and  in  the  sifting  of  that  meaning 
from  all  the  forms  of  reality  itself,  Cassirer  is  not  interested  only 
in  completed  philosophical  systems,  nor  in  fully  grown  cultural 
forms.  Similar  or  even  identical  concepts  might  conceal  differ- 
ent, even  contrasting  meanings,106  and  most  significant  features 
might  be  found  in  byroads  hitherto  overlooked.  The  manifold 
attempts  and  beginnings  of  research  in  all  cultural  forms  are 
the  trickles  from  which  the  formula  of  universal  cultural  prog- 
ress must  be  distilled.107  In  the  frozen  shapes  of  these  forms  the 
original  dynamics  of  their  movement  must  be  detected.  Cassirer 
inquired  into  all  these  forms,  torsos,  trunks  of  forms,  with 
never  resting  zeal,  presenting  not  only  full  grown  treatises 
like  the  three  great  master  works,  but  a  host  of  monographs  on 
particular  questions.  In  all  this  his  reasoning  was  profound; 
he  aimed  to  crystallize  the  leading  idea  of  cultural  movement, 
its  dynamic  soul.  Similarly  Rodin  in  an  unheard  of  procedure 
for  a  sculptor,  exhibited 

human  figures  deprived  of  a  head,  legs  or  arms,  which  at  first  shock 
the  beholder,  but  on  examination  are  found  to  be  so  well  balanced  and 
so  perfectly  harmonized  that  one  can  only  find  beauty  in  them.  His 
reason  for  this  is  artistically  profound.  ...  In  the  development  of  a 
leading  idea — of  thought,  of  meditation,  of  the  action  of  walking, — his 
desire  was  to  eliminate  all  that  might  counteract  or  draw  attention  from 
this  central  thought.  "As  to  polishing  nails  or  ringlets  of  hair,  that  has 
no  interest  for  me,"  he  said;  "it  detracts  attention  from  the  leading 
line  and  the  soul  which  I  wish  to  interpret."108 

1M  Perhaps,  in  the  light  of  the  newest  atomic  achievements,  this  is  also  true  for 
the  periodic  system  of  elements. 
108  Cf.  Erkenntnlsfroblem^  I,  10. 
10T  Cf.  Erkenntnis'problem,  I,  9. 
108  Story,  op.cit.,  13. 


PHILOSOPHY  OF  SYMBOLIC  FORMS  315 

Just  as  little  did  Cassirer  have  time  for  the  trimmings  of  the 
cultural  process.  His  painstaking  search  for  phenomena  was  the 
search  for  the  essential,  the  symbolic  in  them.  But,  since  the 
symbolic  is  never  found  in  purity109  but  only  fulfilled  in  the 
totality  of  the  process,  and  the  process  is  never  finished  but  al- 
ways proceeding,  the  search  for  the  symbol  itself  is  never  ending 
but  always  asymptotic.  Just  as  for  Rodin — and  for  every  great 
master — it  was  never  Cassirer's  habit  "to  undertake  a  work, 
complete  it  and  have  done  with  it.  He  always  had  by  him  a 
number  of  ideas  and  thoughts  on  which  he  meditated  patiently 
for  years  as  they  ripened  in  his  mind."110  By  the  time  he  wrote 
the  Essay  on  Man  Cassirer  saw  the  problems  of  the  Philosophy 
of  the  Symbolic  Forms  from  a  different  angle  and  in  a  new 
light.111 

Now  it  was  no  longer  so  much  the  totality  of  the  process  that 
interested  him,  but  one  moment  of  its  concrete  fullness:  the 
reference  to  man.  The  asymptotic  openness  of  the  process,  the 
lofty  culmination  in  merely  intellectual  symbols  now  has  given 
place  to  a  fuller  harmony:  a  human  universe.  Now  the  sym- 
bolic forms  were  to  help  man  to  slay  the  monster  and  continue 
the  process  of  life  itself.  Now  it  is  no  longer  science  which  is 
the  great  culmination,  but  art — Cassirer  has  moved  toward  the 
new  logic  towards  which  we  see  his  work  tending.  On  the  last 
page  of  the  Essay  we  read  the  famous  words  of  Kant,  that  we 
can  learn  all  about  Newton's  principles  of  natural  philosophy, 
however  great  a  mind  may  have  been  required  to  discover  them; 
but  we  cannot  learn  to  write  spirited  poetry,  however  explicit 
may  be  the  precepts  of  the  art  and  however  excellent  its  models. 
We  learn  that  the  highest  of  forms  is  not  an  abstract  "logical 
function,"  but  that  it  is  genius  himself,  homo  creator.  Now  the 
whole  of  science  is  a  flat  dimension  as  compared  with  the  di- 
mension of  man  himself.  Not  only  "ex  analogia  universi"  but, 
even  more,  "ex  analogia  hominis"  we  must  understand  the 
world.  And  it  is  on  a  note  of  musical  harmony  that  this  last 
great  work  of  Cassirer  ends: 

All  these  functions  complete  and  complement  one  another.  Each  one 

"•  PSF,  III,  142. 
110  Story,  op.  cit.,  13. 
**  Essay  on  Man,  vii. 


316  ROBERT  S.  HARTMAN 

opens  a  new  horizon  and  shows  us  a  new  aspect  of  humanity.  The  dis- 
sonant is  in  harmony  with  itself;  the  contraries  are  not  mutually  exclu- 
sive, but  interdependent:  "harmony  in  contrariety,  as  in  the  case  of  the 
bow  and  the  lyre."112 

The  spirit  of  Leibniz,  in  the  new  form  of  warm  human  concern, 
has  conquered  the  Hegelian  aloofness  in  Cassirer's  mind.  Now 
spontaneity  and  productivity  are  no  more  prerogatives  of  "the 
objective  spirit"  or  "the  symbolic  function,"  but  are  "the  very 
center  of  all  human  activities."113  The  philosophy  of  symbolic 
forms  has  become  the  philosophy  of  man.  Man  himself  now  is 
the  central  symbolic  form.  The  symbolic  process  is  now  no 
longer  so  much  one  of  "dematerialization,"114  "a  process  of 
removal,"  but  of  spiritualization,  a  process  of  strengthening 
the  differentiation  of  matter  by  a  new  energy:  the  spiritual 
energy  of  harmonization.  That  energy  combines  the  human 
world  into  a  symphony  of  meanings.  It  strengthens  itself 
through  its  wedlock  with  matter.  Has  it  been  an  original  partner 
of  matter  from  the  beginning?  Has  the  harmony  between  it  and 
matter  been  pre-established  from  the  beginning  and  is  the  whole 
development  of  the  forms  nothing  but  the  elaboration  of  that 
pre-established  harmony?  And  is  the  appearance  of  that  har- 
mony in  the  logic  of  symbols  nothing  but  that  harmony's 
revelation  in  matter?  Cassirer  never  answers  these  Leibnizian 
questions}  although,  with  unconcerned  assurance,  he  makes 
positive  statements  in  all  these  respects — covering  up  meta- 
physical concern  with  reference  to  "miracles"  and  "ultimate 
mysteria."  But  he  seems  to  be  in  profound  agreement  with 
Leibniz.  "Leibniz  was  the  first  great  modern  thinker  to  have 
a  clear  insight  into  the  true  character  of  mathematical  sym- 
bolism,"115 and  into  the  nature  of  symbolism  in  general. 

For  him  [Leibniz]  the  problem  of  the  "logic  of  things"  is  insolubly 
connected  with  the  problem  of  the  "logic  of  signs."  The  "Sctentia  gen- 
erdu"  needs  the  "Characteristica  general**"  as  its  tool  and  vehicle.  The 

112  Essay  on  Man,  228. 

118  Essay  on  Man,  220. 

114  PSF,  III,  387. 

118  Essay  on  Man,  217  j  cf.  Erkenntnisfroblem,  II,  1425. 


PHILOSOPHY  OF  SYMBOLIC  FORMS  317 

latter  does  not  refer  to  the  things,  but  their  representations:  it  does  not 
deal  with  the  res  but  the  "notae rerum"  But  this  does  not  prejudice  their 
objective  content.  For  that  "pre-established  harmony"  which,  in  ac- 
cordance with  the  fundamental  thought  of  Leibniz'  philosophy,  rules 
between  the  world  of  the  ideal  and  the  real:  it  also  connects  the  world 
of  signs  with  that  of  objective  "meanings."  The  real  is  subject,  without 
any  limitation,  to  the  ideal.116 

There  is  no  such  division  between  ideal  and  real  world  in  the 
philosophy  of  Cassirer.  Critical  philosophy  welds  the  two 
worlds  into  transcendental  unity.  But  the  seam  appears  in  the 
notion  of  the  symbol.  Cassirer  cannot  help  using  Leibnizian 
language.  In  that  way  he  slides  over  the  metaphysical  problem 
which  has  been  put  and  answered  by  Leibniz.  With  Leibniz 

the  analysis  of  the  real  leads  to  the  analysis  of  the  ideas,  the  analysis  of 
the  ideas  to  that  of  the  signs.  With  one  stroke  therewith  the  concept 
of  the  symbol  has  become  the  spiritual  focus,  the  true  center  of  the 
intellectual  world.  In  it  the  principles  of  metaphysics  and  cognition  run 
together.117 

This  very  same  characteristic  can  be  given  of  Cassirer's  philoso- 
phy of  symbolic  forms;  only  that  the  form's  metaphysical  in- 
gredients, by  definition,  are — as  metaphysical — unknowable. 
His  philosophy  is  thus  in  a  way  frustrating;  one  would  like  to 
say,  it  is  so  by  definition.  The  quest  for  a  metaphysics  "behind" 
the  symbolic  form  is  invalid.  But  the  question  concerning  the 
nature  of  that  energy,  which  welds  phenomena  into  structural 
totality  and  thus  brings  about  symbols,  is  still  valid.  Its  answer 
would  lead  into  metaphysics — a  metaphysics  of  Leibnizian  har- 
mony with  humanistic  emphasis:  "the  highest,  indeed  the  only 
task  of  all  these  forms  is  to  unite  men!"11* 

What  a  new  key  is  sounded  here!  How  much  has  totality 
become  harmony  and  harmony  humanism!  Human  harmony 
all  over  the  world  presupposes  universal  symbols.  Leibniz  was 
right:  without  a  Characteristica  generalis  we  shall  never  find  a 
Scientia  generalis.  Modern  symbolic  logic  follows  the  same 


'"/«£ 

118  Essay  on  Man,  129.  Italics  mine.  Whether  these  forms  actually  do  unite  men 


is  another  question.  See  below  notes  132, 133. 


3i 8  ROBERT  S.  HARTMAN 

tendency.119  But  therewith  the  problem  of  human  harmony  is 
not  solved.  "In  an  analysis  of  human  culture  we  must  accept 
the  facts  in  their  concrete  shape,  in  all  their  diversity  and 
divergence."120  The  diversity  of  produced  languages  divide 
menj  the  unity  of  linguistic  functions  may  unite  them.  Even 
more,  however,  may  they  become  united  by  a  universal  logic 
of  artistic  imagination,  an  aesthetic  logic,  which  is  not  inferior 
to  intellectual  logic,  as  was  the  one  constructed  by  Baum- 
garten,121  but  superior  to  it,  extending  not  only  over  the  whole 
surface  of  things  but  also  sounding  the  depths  of  the  under- 
standing consciousness.  Only  then  will  it  truly  be  possible  to 
"comprehend  the  world  in  a  moment,"  to  make  actual  the 
brotherhood  of  man.  Science,  following  the  Leibnizian 
"Ansatz"  has  conquered  the  totality  of  things.  Exact  science  is 
completely  under  Leibniz's  spell.122  But  science  has  diluted  the 
metaphysical  richness  of  his  method.  "For  Leibniz  the  concept 
of  symbol  was  so  to  speak  the  'vinculum  substantiate?  between 
his  metaphysics  and  his  logic.  For  modern  science  it  is  the 
'vmculum  substantiate*  between  logic  and  mathematics  and  be- 
tween logic  and  exact  natural  science."123  For  the  author  of  the 
Philosophy  of  Symbolic  Forms  this  fact  implied  a  distinct  prog- 
ress and  advantage.  It  was  a  fascinating  discovery  to  find  the 
intermediate  function  between  the  logical  universal  and  the 
concrete  individual,124  the  common  denominator  between  ex- 
tension and  intension,  to  discover  the  world  of  things  as  a  world 
of  symbols,  as  representations  rather  than  as  objects,125  and  to 
rise,  in  the  process  of  dematerialization,  to  the  pure  "conceptual 
sign"  without  any  Nebensinn™  that  is  to  say  without  any 
material  appendage,  in  spite  of  the  necessity  of  meaning  to  find 
a  sensuous  substratum  for  its  actualization.127  But  for  the  author 


"•  1  ML 
™lbid. 

181  Essay  on  Man,  136. 


,  III,  55. 
'"PSF,  I,  tfif. 
mPSF,  111,373- 


PHILOSOPHY  OF  SYMBOLIC  FORMS  319 

of  An  Essay  on  Man  it  is  different.  The  fascination  of  intellec- 
tual discovery  now  seems  to  have  given  way  to  an  endeavor  of 
moral  persuasion — a  development  similar  to  Kant's,  although, 
in  my  opinion,  less  consciously  planned  for.  In  the  Philosophy 
of  Symbolic  Forms  it  is  the  fascinating  function  of  the  concept 
to  refer  from  the  very  beginning  to  the  totality  of  thought,  to 
the  whole  of  all  possible  thought  formations.128  Precisely  that 
which  has  not  happened  here  or  anywhere  else  is  posited  as 
norm129  by  the  concept  and  is  pre-formed  in  anticipation  by  the 
symbol.130  The  fascination  of  the  Essay  on  Man  is  no  more  the 
all  comprehensive  potentiality  of  thought  but  that  of  man  him- 
self. The  kingdom  of  the  possible  must  now  be  actualized  by 
man.  He  must  make  true  what  has  never  been  true  before,  his 
own  total  harmonic  life.  Now  a  new  miracle  has  to  happen:  not 
the  miracle  of  the  concept,  "that  the  simple  sensuous  material, 
by  the  way  in  which  it  is  considered,  gains  a  new  and  manifold 
spiritual  life}"131  but  a  miracle  of  social  life:  that  the  human 
material,  by  the  way  in  which  it  is  considered,  gains  a  new  and 
manifold  spiritual  life.  Now  the  question  arises,  how  man's 
spiritual  creations  can  reactively  ennoble  their  creator  himself. 

This  is  only  possible,  obviously,  if  they  do  not  remain  merely 
intellectual  achievements,  but  take  hold  of  the  whole  of  man's 
nature}  if  culture  is  integrated  by  the  symbol  not  only,  so  to 
speak,  horizontally,  in  the  totality  of  its  forms,  but  also  in  the 
person  of  its  creator,  vertically,  so  to  speak,  to  the  very  founda- 
tions of  his  soul — in  a  word,  if  man  himself  is  integrated  into  his 
culture.  For  such  an  achievement  the  intellectual  logic  is  not 
sufficient.  The  author  of  the  Essay  on  Man  does  no  longer 
seem  to  find  it  so  important  that  the  symbolic  function  is  the 
vinculum  substantiate  between  logic  and  mathematics  and  be- 
tween logic  and  exact  natural  science.  For  him  it  seems  now  to 
be  all  important  that  it  be  the  vinculum  substantiate  between 
logic  and  morality. 

It  is  one  of  the  peculiarities  of  creation  that  the  works  created 

128 PSF,  m,  39i. 
,  111,370. 


™PSF,  III,  i97f.,  21  if,  234- 

mPSF,  1, 27. 


320  ROBERT  S.  HARTMAN 

appear  as  strangers  to  the  creator.  Since  the  essential  act  of 
creation  is  a  subconscious  one,  the  miracle  of  encompassing  the 
spiritual  in  the  material  takes  place  in  the  very  depths  of  the 
creating  soulj  the  memory  of  it  is  faint,  indeed,  non-existing, 
and  the  re-cognition  of  the  created  as  created  almost  impossible. 
Herein  lies  the  fascination  of  the  work  for  the  creator  5  but 
herein  also  the  danger  of  abstracting  himself  from  his  creations, 
of  disintegration  between  man  and  culture  instead  of  integra- 
tion. The  very  variety  and  differentiation  of  cultural  forms,  in 
which  lies  the  progress  of  the  spirit  and  in  the  totality  of  which 
lies  its  harmony,  also  makes  for  differences  and  separations. 
"Thus  what  was  intended  to  secure  the  harmony  of  culture  be- 
comes the  source  of  the  deepest  discords  and  dissensions."182 
This  is  the  great  antinomy,  the  dialectic,  not  only  of  the  religious 
life133  but  of  all  cultural  life.  The  "process  of  removal"  some- 
times "iiberschlagt  sich"  gets  out  of  hand,  and  degenerates  into 
an  urge  of  destruction.  The  great  problem  then  is  how  to  main- 
tain the  continuity  between  the  soul  of  man  and  his  creations, 
how  to  weave  him  and  the  symbolic  forms  into  one  cultural 
pattern,  a  pattern  of  morality.  When  man  is  identified  with  his 
works,  he  is  moral;  for  then  he  is  identified  with  the  works  of 
all  mankind.  How  can  that  integration  be  achieved?  Again  let 
us  glance  at  the  artist. 

Rodin  and  his  works  were  one. 

It  was  impossible  to  separate  him  from  his  work.  His  statues  were  the 
states  of  his  soul.  Just  as  Rodin  seemed  to  break  the  fragments  around 
the  statue  away  from  the  block  in  which  it  had  been  concealed,  so  he 
himself  seemed  to  be  a  sort  of  rock  hiding  various  forms  and  crystallized 
growths.184 

The  symbolic  forms  are  the  states  of  man's  soul.  "The  contents 
of  culture  cannot  be  separated  from  the  fundamental  forms  and 
directions  of  spiritual  creation:  their  'being'  cannot  be  appre- 
hended otherwise  but  as  'doing'."135  As  the  sculpture  is  "con- 
cealed" in  the  block,  "pre-existent"  in  its  shape,  grain,  texture, 


***  Essay  on  Man,  130. 
138  Ibid,  and  Chap.  VII. 
**  Story,  op.  cit.f  n. 


PHILOSOPHY  OF  SYMBOLIC  FORMS  321 

"like  the  chicken  in  the  egg,"136  and  the  sculptor  must  "col- 
laborate" with  the  stone  to  free  the  figure  concealed  in  it,  so 
man  must  "collaborate"  with  himself  to  free  the  symbolic  forms 
within  him  and  create  culture  out  of  himself.  Culture  is  indeed 
the  process  of  man's  progressive  self-liberation.  "Language,  art, 
religion,  science,  are  various  phases  in  this  process."137  Man  is 
his  own  "matter"  and  his  own  "form."  Cassirer's  philosophy 
here  completes  and  substantiates  empirically  Kant's  "Coperni- 
can  revolution."  Matter  and  form 

are  now  no  more  absolute  powers  of  Eemgy  but  they  serve  the  designa- 
tion of  certain  differences  and  structures  of  meaning.  The  "matter"  of 
perception,  as  it  was  understood  by  Kant  originally,  could  still  appear 
as  a  kind  of  epistemological  counterpart  to  Aristotle's  WP<OTYJ  uXiq.  Like 
it,  it  is  taken  as  the  merely  indeterminate  before  all  determination, 
which  must  expect  all  determination  from  the  form  which  accrues  to 
it  and  imprints  itself  on  it.  The  situation  changes  after  Kant's  own  de- 
velopment of  the  "transcendental  topic"  and  his  designation,  within  that 
topic,  of  a  definite  position  to  the  opposition  of  "matter"  and  "form." 
Now  they  are  no  more  primal  determinations  of  Being,  ontic  entities, 
but  pure  concepts  of  reflection,  which  in  the  section  on  the  "Amphiboly 
of  the  Concepts  of  Reflection"  are  being  treated  on  the  same  line  with 
Agreement  and  Opposition,  and  Identity  and  Difference.  They  are 
no  more  two  poles  of  Being  in  insoluble  "real"  opposition,138 

but  concepts  of  transcendental  comparisons  referring  to  states 
of  consciousness.  They  are  "states  of  man's  soul."  "From  the 
point  of  view  of  phenomenology  there  is  as  little  a  'matter  in 
itselP  as  a  'form  in  itself — there  are  only  total  experiences, 
which  can  be  compared  under  the  point  of  view  of  matter  and 
form,  and  determined  and  articulated  accordingly."139 

In  the  Essay  on  Man  the  transcendental  "relativization"140 
of  the  contrast  between  matter  and  form  has  been  applied  to 
man  5  man  is  the  sculptor  of  the  symbolic  forms — forms  of  his 
own  consciousness.  But  the  relationship  already  appears  clearly 
in  the  Philosophy  of  Symbolic  Forms.  Indeed,  it  is  the  differ- 

136  In  words  of  the  Spanish  sculptor  Jose*  de  Creeft. 
187  Essay  on  Man,  228. 
138  m1,  III,  13. 
189  PSF,  III,  230. 


322  ROBERT  S.  HARTMAN 

entiation  of  man's  "space"  by  which  man  actually  carves  out 
the  symbolic  forms,  pre-existent  in  it.  Space  is  the  universal 
matrix  of  these  forms — and  it  is  a  state  of  man's  own  con- 
sciousness. Plato's  rcp&Tov  SeKTixdVj  space  as  common  matrix  of 
all  determinations,  is  actually  being  confirmed  by  the  philoso- 
phy of  symbolic  forms,141  even  though  its  "space,"  like  Kant's, 
is  very  different  from  Plato's  metaphysical  "receptacle."  It  is  a 
formative,  dynamic  principle,  indeed,  the  formative  principle 
of  consciousness  itself  in  its  relation  to  the  world — the  form 
of  our  "outer  experience."  It  is  a  living  "material,"  living  in 
and  through  the  life  of  its  shaper,  just  as  is  the  "stone"  of 
Rodin.  All  the  symbolic  forms  have  their  particular  "spati- 
ality,"142  their  particular  form  of  correlation148  according  to  their 
particular  modality.  From  empirical  perceptual  space  develops 
conceptual  space.144  Perceptual  space  is  already  filled  with  sym- 
bolic forms  and  interpenetrated  by  them.  Language  forms  the 
first  space-words.  In  abstract  geometry  space  is  a  system  of 
topological  determinations:  proximity  of  points,  distance,  inter- 
section of  lines,  incidence  of  planes  and  spaces.  From  topologi- 
cal develops  metric  and  projective  space.  The  development  of 
space  is  at  the  same  time  the  development  of  relational  thought, 
the  gradual  awakening  of  consciousness  and  its  world-aware- 


ness.145 


There  is  no  power  of  the  spirit  which  has  not  co-operated  in  this  gigantic 
process  of  formation.  Sensation,  intuition,  feeling,  phantasy,  creative 
imagination,146  constructive  [!]  conceptual  thought  —  and  the  manner 
of  their  interpenetration  create  each  time  a  new  spatial  Gestalt.™ 

At  the  same  time  there  is  a  definitive  direction  of  the  process: 
"the  '  Auseinanderseteung*  between  world  and  £^o"148  —  the 


1  PSF,  m,  49i. 


148  ibid. 

144  PSF,  m,  49*. 

148  Cassirer  refers  in  this  connection  to  Carnap,  Rudolf,  Der  Raum,  tin  Beitrag 
zur  Wissenschaftslehre,  Berlin,  1922. 

14*The  German  word  "Einbildungskraft"  '-"power  of  in-forming,"  gives  the 
spatial  implication. 

"PSF,  III,  493. 

148      £  Italics  mine. 


PHILOSOPHY  OF  SYMBOLIC  FORMS  323 

progressive  "ex-position"  and  "ex-secution"  of  the  separateness 
of  man  and  world,  their  gradual  differentiation.  Gradually  man 
releases  space  and  its  forms  from  and  out  of  himself,  until 
finally  it  seems  to  be  an  independent  Gestalty  standing  opposed 
to  and  as  counter-pole  of  him.  The  mythical  consciousness  of 
space  is  still  entirely  woven  within  the  sphere  of  subjective  feel- 
ing, but  already  there  appears  an  opposition  of  cosmic  powers, 
as  in  the  Platonic  Timaeus,  the  Chinese  Yin  and  Yang,  and  the 
innumerable  forms  of  "cosmic  bisexuality."149  Language  con- 
tinues the  separation  and  deepens  it:  the  mythical  physiog- 
nomic space  becomes  presentative  space.  Conceptual  —  mathe- 
matical, geometrical,  and  physical  —  thought  complete  the  proc- 
ess: the  anthropomorphic  conditions  are  being  pushed  back  in 
favor  of  "objective"  determinations  which  result  from  the  meth- 
ods of  counting  and  measuring.  Now  we  have  the  space  of  pure 
meaning  or  signification.150  A  similar  process  of  differentiation 
takes  place  within  the  elemental  units  of  the  symbolic  forms. 
The  flux  of  perceptual  impressions  is  being  subdivided  into 
centers  around  which  the  undifferentiated  variety  clusters,  like 
the  diffuse  matter  in  space,  which  gradually  clustered  into  nebu- 
lae, and  continues  to  concentrate  its  diffuse  matter  into  condensed 
energy  "through  millions  and  mountains  of  millions  of  cen- 
turies."151 Similarly  the  process  of  symbolic  formation  continues 
to  concentrate  diffuse  energies  as  long  as  there  is  man.  The 
diffuse  matter  in  space  is  being  organized  by  being  referred  to  a 
natural  center.  Ever  new  worlds  are  in  formation  and  "gain  a 
general  relation  to  the  center,  the  first  formative  point  of  crea- 
tion."152 Similarly  in  the  world  of  symbolic  forms  centers  are 
formed  as  points  of  reference.  Thus  the  name  becomes  name 
only  through  reference  to  such  centers.  The  names  "red"  or 
"blue,"  for  instance,153  do  not  mean  certain  blue  or  red  nuances, 
but  express  the  specific  manner,  in  which  an  undetermined 
variety  of  such  nuances  is  seen  as  one  and  conceptually  set  as 

**  Treated  symbolically  in  Mann's  Joseph  novels.  Cf.  Slochower,  Harry,  No 
Voice  is  Wholly  Lost,  New  York  1945,  350  n. 
™PSF,  III,  493  f. 
"*  Kant,  Natural  History  and  Theory  of  the  Heavens,  2.  Teil,  7tes  Hauptstuck. 


PSF,  111,497- 


324  ROBERT  S.  HARTMAN 

one.154  In  physical-geometrical  thought  the  given  is  not  only 
being  divided  and  assembled  around  fixed  centers,  but  "cast 
into  form,"155  the  harmonious  form  of  mathematical  symbols, 
which  is  as  opposed  to  the  original  diffusion  of  formative  ener- 
gies as  the  well  ordered  system  of  planets  is  to  the  primal 
diffusion  of  matter.  For  Laplace  Kant's  theory  of  the  heavens 
was  the  inspiration  for  a  mathematical  theory  of  the  creation 
of  the  world.156  For  Cassirer  Kant's  theory  of  knowledge  was 
the  inspiration  for  a  theory  of  the  creation  of  the  cultural  world, 
one  of  whose  culminations  is  mathematics.  In  both  cases  the 
world  is  modelled  in  space — a  work  of  plastic  imagination.157 
If  all  activity  of  thought  expresses  itself  in  spatial  forms,  then 
its  creative  activity  must  needs  be  a  kind  of  plastic  sculpturing. 
Cassirer  himself  has  never,  to  my  knowledge,  drawn  this  con- 
clusion, but  it  deduces  itself  logically  from  his  philosophy. 

In  sculpturing  the  world  of  symbolic  forms,  man  sculptures 
and  forms  his  own  soul.  What  he  looks  at  in  the  variety  of 
forms  is  his  own  inner  life.  Rodin  "used  to  contemplate  his 
creations  lovingly,  and  sometimes  even  seemed  to  be  astonished 
and  contemplative  at  the  idea  of  having  created  them,  speaking 
as  if  they  existed  apart  from  himself."158  Thus  man  stands 
wonderingly  before  his  creations,  astounded  at  the  world,  which 
he  has  created — created  so  unconsciously  that  it  took  several 
thousand  years  of  contemplative  thought  until,  in  the  mind  of 
Kant,  he  recognized  in  it  himself.  This  same  difficulty  veiled 
the  world  of  symbolic  forms  before  man's  mind  in  a  world  of 
metaphysics.  Again  and  again  man  tried  to  lift  the  veil,  but  the 
attempt  was  doomed  to  pathetic  failure.  As  for  Schiller's 
"Young  Man  of  Sai's,"  curiosity  could  only  yield  horror:  the 
look  into  the  abyss  of  nothing — or  the  abyss  of  his  own  self.  In 

184  "In-eins-gesefon  und  in-eins-gesetzt."  "Einsicht"  becomes  "Eins-sicW — "In- 
sight" becomes  "One-sight." 

**  PSF,  III,  498. 

lw  Or  might  have  been,  if  he  knew  Kant's  treatise.  Whether  or  not  he  actually 
did  is  unknown. 

m  Cf .  Rodin :  "If  we  can  imagine  the  thought  of  God  in  creating  the  world, 
we  shall  find  that  He  first  thought  of  the  modelling,  which  is  the  unique  principle 
in  Nature — and  perhaps  of  the  *  planets."  Story,  of.  cit.>  14. 

w  Story,  of,  c*t.t  n. 


PHILOSOPHY  OF  SYMBOLIC  FORMS  325 

a  very  real  sense  we  are  all  thinkers  pondering  "The  Gate  of 
Hell."  Thinking  is  fraught  with  shocking  surprises,  shocks 
which  are  dialectic  hiatuses  in  the  process  of  the  souPs  self- 
discovery.  That  process  leads  to  successive  "crises"  "separa- 
tions" of  existence,  in  which  the  unconscious  and  uncontem- 
plated process  of  spiritual  development  becomes  a  problem  to 
itself,  in  which  "Ausserung*  becomes  "Ausserliches"  self-ex- 
pression becomes  the  exterior  world.159  This  estrangement  of 
the  symbolic  forms  from  their  creator  arises  from  the  very 
fundamental  principle  of  their  creation. 

The  acts  of  expression,  presentation,  and  meaning  are  not  immediately 
present  to  themselves,  but  become  apparent  only  in  the  totality  of  their 
accomplishment.  They  are  only  by  confirming  themselves,  and  giving 
notice  of  themselves  through  their  action.  They  do  not  originally  reflect 
on  themselves,  but  they  look  at  the  work  which  they  are  to  execute,  to 
the  reality  the  valid  form  of  which  they  are  to  build  up.160 

Hence  these  forms  can  only  be  described  within  their  works 
and  in  the  language  of  these  works.  Language,  myth,  art: 

each  of  these  exteriorizes  its  own  individual  world  of  creations,  which 
latter  cannot  be  understood  otherwise  than  as  expressions  of  the  self- 
activity,  the  "spontaneity"  of  the  spirit.  But  this  self-activity  does  not 
proceed  in  the  form  of  free  reflection,  and  therefore  remains  hidden 
to  itself.  The  spirit  creates  the  series  of  linguistic,  mythical  and  artistic 
Gestalten,  without  in  them  recognizing  itself  as  creative  principle.  Thus 
each  of  these  series  becomes  for  it  an  "exterior"  world.161 

The  free  creations  of  the  spirit  are  then  regarded  as  "things" 
and  the  power  and  independence  of  the  spirit  compelled  into 
systems  of  dogmatic  concepts.182  Only  the  Critical  philosophy 
succeeds  in  prying  open  this  dogmatism.  The  thing,  far  from 
being  a  self-sufficient  being,  is  for  it  only  "an  intellectual  partial 
condition  of  being,  a  single  conceptual  moment,  which  only  in 
the  complete  system  of  our  knowledge  comes  to  full  effect."168 
It  is  now  nothing  but  the  general  principle  of  the  series,  so  to 


160  PSFy  III,  1  1  8. 

m  PSF,  II,  267.  Cf.  Erkenntnisfroblem  I,  7. 

1W  Erkenntnisfroblem  I,  vf. 

"•/*«. 


326  ROBERT  S.  HARTMAN 

speak,  its  general  term.184  The  whole  of  reality  is  process,  and 
the  things  are  condensations  of  that  process,  much  as  matter  is 
in  physical  field  theory.165  There  is  now  no  more  metaphysical 
absolute,  but  only  becoming.  "By  regarding  the  conditions  of 
science  as  'become,'  we  recognize  them  precisely  thereby  as 
creations  of  thought."166  In  doing  so  we  recognize  the  opposition 
of  subject  and  object  as  a  metaphysical  artifice,  "the  charac- 
teristic procedure  of  metaphysics."167  Thus  metaphysics  es- 
tranges man  from  his  creations}  it  must  be  overcome  if  man 
is  to  become  responsible  for  his  culture.  It  is  no  wonder,  there- 
fore, that  the  most  metaphysical  people  has  also  fallen  victim 
to  the  most  tremendous  "crisis,"  the  most  barbaric  separation 
of  man  and  culture:  what  the  German  scientists  of  extermina- 
tion strove  to  annihilate  was  the  man-of-culture,168  termed  by 
them  "the  beast  of  intelligence"  —  "die  Intelligenzbestie"  In 
their  scientific  one-sidedness  they  were  both  "metaphysical" 
and  barbaric.169 

To  overcome  this  metaphysical  crisis  man  must  "collaborate" 
with  himself  as  the  sculptor  does  with  his  material.  He  must 
fuse  his  own  form  with  his  own  matter.  The  metaphysical  crisis 
must  be  transformed,  through  cultural  critique,  into  harmonic 
responsibility  of  man  for  his  world.  This  is  only  possible  by 
man's  recognizing  in  the  cultural  forms  his  own  consciousness, 
by  comprehending  these  forms  as  symbolic  for  the  unity  of 


•,  ill,  3  73. 

165  That  theory  should,  theoretically,  be  deducible  from  Kant's  Critique  of  Pure 
Reason. 

ie*  Erkenntnis'problem  I,  vi. 

™  Substance  and  Function,  271$  Cf.  PSF,  I,  24. 

""Cf.  Kerenyi,  Karl,  Romandlchtung  und  Mythologle,  Bin  Briefwechsel  mit 
Thomas  Mann,  Zurich:  Rhein  Verlag,  1945*  42» 

169  Cf.  Bluhm,  Heinz,  "Ernst  Cassirer  und  die  deutsche  Philologie,"  Monats- 
hefte  filr  Dcutsdten  Unterrlcht,  Vol.  XXXVII,  No.  7,  November  1945,  471. 
Ilya  Ehrenburg,  The  Tempering  of  Russia,  New  York:  Alfred  A.  Knopf,  i944> 
276,  on  examining  the  diary  of  a  dead  German  who  at  the  front  continued  read- 
ing philosophy  and  whose  notebook  related  the  philosophy  and  practice  of  exter- 
mination interspersed  with  quotations  from  Plato,  Schopenhauer,  and  Nietzsche, 
wrote:  "In  perusing  the  brown  notebook  one  is  amazed  at  the  mental  poverty 
of  these  scholarly  cannibals.  To  torture  people  they  need  philosophical  quotations. 
.  .  .  One  feels  like  killing  Fritz-the-philosopher  twice:  one  bullet  because  he  tor- 
tured Russian  children  5  another  because  after  murdering  a  baby,  he  read  Plato." 


PHILOSOPHY  OF  SYMBOLIC  FORMS  327 

man  <md  his  world.  Symbolism  is  to  be  the  vehicle  of  man's 
morality. 

How  else  should  man  be  able  to  sound  the  depths  of  his  own 
consciousness  and  at  the  same  time  roam  over  the  width  of  the 
world?  The  variety  of  forms  would  be  too  manifold  for  com- 
prehension, if  there  were  not  the  principle  of  the  symbolic 
function  to  organize  them.  The  consciousness  would  be  too 
fleetingly  incomprehensible,  if  there  were  not  the  material  em- 
bodiments of  its  energies.  How  else  should  we  be  able  to 

penetrate  to  this  purely  inner  world  of  consciousness  as  last  concen- 
tration of  the  spiritual,  if  for  its  demonstration  and  description  we  have 
to  renounce  all  the  concepts  and  points  of  view,  which  have  been  created 
for  the  presentation  of  the  concrete  reality  of  things.  Where  would 
there  be  a  means  to  comprehend  the  incomprehensible,  to  express  in 
any  way  that  which  itself  has  not  yet  assumed  any  concrete  form — 
either  of  the  perceptual  space  and  time  order,  or  of  an  intellectual, 
ethical  or  aesthetic  order?  If  the  consciousness  is  nothing  but  the  pure 
potentiality  of  all  the  "objective"  forms,  so  to  speak  the  pure  receptivity 
and  preparedness  for  them,  then  it  cannot  be  seen  how  precisely  this 
potentiality  itself  can  be  treated  as  a  fact,  indeed,  as  the  primary  fact 
of  all  spirituality  itself.  ...  It  is  obvious  that  this  paradoxical  demand 
can  only  be  satisfied,  if  at  all,  mediately.  We  can  never  uncover  the 
immediate  being  and  life  of  consciousness  purely  as  such,170 — but  it  is  a 
meaningful  task  to  understand  the  process  of  objectivation171 

by  treating  it  from  a  double  perspective,  shuttling  back  and 
forth  between  the  terminus  a  quo  and  the  terminus  ad  quemy 
thus  truly  following  the  method  of  that  weaver's  masterpiece 
or,  even  better,  instead  of  treating  the  objectivity  of  the  law 
rather  find  the  Gestalt172  of  cognition,  thus  transforming  the 
method  of  psychology  into  that  of  the  symbolic  forms. 

We  start  from  the  problems  of  the  "objective  spirit,"  the  Gestalten  of 
which  it  consists  and  in  which  it  exists;  but  we  do  not  rest  there  as  a 
mere  fact,  but  try,  through  a  reconstructive  analysis,  to  penetrate  to  their 
elementary  conditions,  the  "conditions  of  their  possibility."173 

170  In  this  connection  Cassirer's  criticism  of  Berg-son's  method  is  of  importance, 
PSF,  III,  42ff. 
mPSF,  III,  6zf. 
mPSF,  III,  66. 
111 /W,  III,  67. 


328  ROBERT  S.  HARTMAN 

In  other  words,  we  look  for  the  "various  forms  and  crystal- 
lized growths"  within  the  rock  that  is  man,  and  then  proceed 
to  carve  them  out,  helped  by  our  knowledge  of  the  grain  and 
texture,  the  geology  and  palaeontology  of  those  forms.  Thus 
we  would  find  the  correspondence  between  the  manifold  of 
objective  formations  and  subjective  states  of  consciousness,  a 
"truly  concrete  view  of  the  cfull  objectivity'  of  the  spirit  on  the 
one  hand  and  its  'full  subjectivity'  on  the  other."174  To  do  so 
we  must  delve  down  deeply  into  the  roots  of  consciousness: 

We  must  consider  not  only  the  three  dimensions  of  the  logical,  the 
ethical  and  the  aesthetic,  but  in  particular  the  "form''  of  language  and 
the  "form"  of  mythos,  if  we  want  to  penetrate  down  to  the  primary  be- 
havioral and  formative  conditions  of  consciousness.175 

In  this  way,  then,  the  vertical  integration  of  man  will  be 
joined  to  the  horizontal  integration  of  his  culture.  Man  must 
live  on  all  the  levels  of  his  consciousness,  on  the  deepest  of 
myth  as  well  as  on  the  highest  of  mathematics,  music,178  and 
mysticism.  This  vertical  task  has  only  just  begun,  but  the  great 
minds  of  our  age  are  preparing  the  synthesis.  Bergson  joins 
"mechanics  and  mysticism,"177  Thomas  Mann  joins  mythos  and 
language,178  and  asks  for  a  chair  in  "mythology"  to  join  mythos 
and  logos.179  Cassirer  joins  all  spiritual  forms  in  the  synthesis 
of  cultural  symbolism. 

174  Ibid. 
17' 1 bid. 

178  See  above  note  85. 

177  The  Two  Sources  of  Morality  and  Religion,  New  York:  Henry  Holt  and 
Company,  1935,  chapter  IV.  Bergson's  philosophy  is  based  on  the  form  of  our 
inner  experience,  time;  Cassirer's  is  based  on  that  of  our  outer  experience,  space. 
Therefore  the  latter  is  led  to  the  central  notion  of  the  symbol,  which  the  former 
rejects,  the  former  to  that  of  metaphysical  intuition  which  the  latter  rejects.  Cas- 
sirer's philosophy  can  be  understood  in  terms  of  the  plastic  arts,  Bergson's  in  terms 
of  music.  A  synthesis  of  both  philosophies  would  be  the  true  philosophy  of  sym- 
bolism. 

""Kerenyi,  of.  «'/.,  50.  According  to  Cassirer,  PSF,  I,  268,  language  as  a  form 
is  between  mythos  and  logos. 

179  Kerenyi,  op.  cit.t   84,   82.  The  separation  of  the  myth  from  logos  is  the 
immediate  cause  of  the  latest  world  catastrophe.  The  combination  of  both,  in 
particular  of  mythos  with  the  science  of  psychology,  is  one  of  the  guarantees  of 
the  future.  "I  have  long  been  a  passionate  friend  of  this  combination  j  for  indeed, 
psychology  is  the  means  to  take  the  myth  out  of  the  hands  of  the  fascist  obscurants 


PHILOSOPHY  OF  SYMBOLIC  FORMS  329 

In  this  way  he  has  given  us  a  tool,  a  "grammar  of  the  sym- 
bolic function,"180  a  key  with  which  to  open  the  treasure  house 
of  our  own  culture.  But  simply  to  open  it  and  wander  around 
in  it  as  in  a  museum  will  not  solve  the  crisis.  We  must  appropri- 
ate all  the  symbolic  forms  as  our  own  creations.  The  symbols 
must  not  remain  mute  and  dumb  signs  for  us,  but  be  charged 
with  all  the  meaning  of  life.  We  must  enter  into  their  own 
lives  and  live  on  their  level.  Our  survival  depends  on  our  ca- 
pacity to  handle  symbols  in  communication,  discussion,  and 
agreement — in  settling  conflicts  by  handling  symbols  rather 
than  the  powers  they  stand  for.  We  must  "do  away  with  pres- 
ence in  order  to  penetrate  to  representation.  .  .  .  The  regress 
into  the  world  of  signs  is  the  preparation  for  that  decisive  break- 
through in  which  the  spirit  will  conquer  its  own  world,  the 
world  of  idea."1*1 

We  are  standing  before  that  decisive  event.  We  must  either 
live  through  symbols  or  die  in  the  flesh.  The  symbols  will  be 
filled  with  life  if  they  reach  through  our  entire  self,  far  above 
and  below  the  merely  intellectual  level.  We  must  recognize  the 
states  of  our  soul  in  them,  as  did  Rodin  in  his  creations  j  "he  was 
the  companion  of  these  white  mute  creatures  of  his,  he  loved 
them  and  entered  into  their  abstract  lives."182  So  we  must  enter 
the  life  of  human  culture  and  lovingly  develop  it  and  us  in  it. 
In  this  sense  the  philosophy  of  symbolic  forms  may  be  said  to 
be  a  comprehensive  aesthetics,  the  work  of  an  artist  for  artists: 
the  vision  of  man  as  creator  of  all  his  works,  the  vision  of  culture 
as  human  creation.  Indeed,  it  seems  that  Cassirer  himself  has 
had  that  vision  very  consciously  5  the  volume  on  Aesthetics  was 
to  be  the  crowning  volume  of  the  Philosophy  of  Symbolic 
Forms™  It  is  the  crisis  itself  that  has  separated  Cassirer  from 


and  to  'transfunction*  it  into  the  humane.  That  combination  actually  represents 
to  me  the  world  of  the  future,  a  humanity,  that  is  blessed  from  on  high,  through 
the  spirit,  and  *f  rom  the  depths  that  lie  below'."  Thomas  Mann,  Kerenyi  j  op.  cit., 
82.  Cf.  Buxton,  Charles  Roden,  Prophets  of  Heaven  and  Hell,  Virgil,  Dante,  Mil- 
ton, Goethe,  Cambridge:  At  the  University  Press,  1945,  2$L  + 

**»  pg  p    T     _  a 

181  PSF,  III,  3*561  54- Cf.  Ill,  330. 

182  Story,  op.  cit.,  n. 

183Bluhm,  op.  cit.,  468.  PSF,  I,  120. 


330  ROBERT  S.  HARTMAN 

the  symbolic  forms  of  the  arts  5  his  book  could  not  be  written 
"due  to  the  unfavorable  political  conditions."  Otherwise  he 
himself  might  have  performed  that  vertical  synthesis  of  man 
and  cast  man's  inner  life  into  the  forms  of  the  new  logic.  Maybe 
he  would  have  called  that  new  form  the  form  of  man's  "sym- 
bolic Pr'dgnanz" — man's  existence  as  symbol  of  his  own  uni- 
versal thought:  transcending  his  material  confinement  in  uni- 
versal meaning. 

How  Cassirer  would  have  integrated  man  himself  into  his 
culture  we  can  only  guess.  He  has  given  us  one  lowly  example 
for  symbolic  Pragnanz:  he  integrates  the  life  of  a  wavy  line  in 
all  fields  of  meaning.  Let  us  quote  that  passage,  not  only  as  a 
symbolic  review  of  the  whole  philosophy  of  symbolic  forms,  its 
artistic  empathy  and  the  sweep  of  its  meaning,  but  also  as  a  pre- 
view into  realms  to  which  Cassirer's  philosophy  points. 

In  the  purely  spatial  determination  there  is  a  peculiar  "mood,"  the  up 
and  down  of  lines  in  space  contains  an  inner  motion,  a  dynamic  rise 
and  fall,  a  psychic  being  and  life.  It  is  not  we  who  feel  our  own  inner 
states  in  a  subjective  way  in  the  spatial  form:  but  that  form  presents 
itself  to  us  as  a  spirited  whole,  an  independent  manifestation  of  life. 
Its  steady  and  calm  flow  or  its  sudden  break,  its  roundness  and  whole- 
ness or  its  brokenness,  its  hardness  or  softness :  all  this  appears  as  character 
of  its  own  being,  its  objective  "nature."  But  all  this  recedes  and  seems 
as  if  it  were  annihilated  and  extinguished  as  soon  as  the  line  is  taken  in 
another  meaning — as  a  mathematical  design,  a  geometrical  figure.  Now 
it  becomes  a  mere  scheme,  the  means  of  presenting  a  universal  geometric 
law.  Where  before  we  had  the  up  and  down  of  a  wavy  line  and  in  it 
the  harmony  of  an  inner  mood — there  now  we  find  the  graphic  pres- 
entation of  a  trigonometric  function,  a  curve  the  whole  content  of  which 
is  absorbed  in  its  analytic  formula.  The  spatial  Gestalt  is  nothing  else 
now  than  the  paradigm  of  that  formula;  it  is  only  the  hull  into  which 
a  mathematical  thought,  imperceptible  in  itself,  is  clothed.  And  the  latter 
does  not  stand  by  itself,  but  in  it  a  universal  law  presents  itself,  the 
order  of  space  in  general.  Every  single  geometric  form  is  by  virtue  of 
that  order  connected  with  the  totality  of  all  other  spatial  forms.  It 
belongs  to  a  certain  system — an  aggregate  of  "truths"  and  "theorems," 
of  "reasons"  and  "consequences" — and  that  system  denotes  the  universal 
form  by  which  each  individual  geometric  figure  is  alone  possible,  that  is 
to  say,  constructable  and  "understandable."  And  again  the  situation  is 


PHILOSOPHY  OF  SYMBOLIC  FORMS  331 

different,  when  we  consider  the  line  as  mythical  sign  or  as  aesthetic 
ornament.  The  mythical  sign  expresses  the  fundamental  mythical  con- 
trast between  the  "holy"  and  the  "profane."  It  is  established  in  order 
to  separate  these  two  realms  from  each  other,  to  warn  and  to  terrify  and 
to  bar  the  uninitiated  from  approaching  or  entering  the  holy.  And 
thereby  it  does  not  function  only  as  a  mere  sign,  as  a  mark  by  which  the 
holy  is  being  recognized;  but  it  possesses  a  magically  compelling  and  re- 
pelling power,  which  resides  in  it  objectively.  Of  such  a  compulsion  the 
aesthetic  world  knows  nothing.  Contemplated  as  an  ornament  the  line 
is  removed  both  from  the  sphere  of  "meaning"  in  the  logico-conceptual 
sense  as  that  of  magico-mythical  significance  and  warning.  It  now 
possesses  its  import  in  itself,  which  uncovers  itself  only  in  the  purely 
artistic  contemplation,  the  aesthetic  intuition  as  such.  Here  again  the 
experience  of  the  spatial  form  completes  itself  only  through  belonging  to 
a  total  horizon  and  opening  that  horizon  up  for  us,  ...  by  standing  in  a 
certain  atmosphere,  in  which  it  not  only  simply  "is,"  but  in  which  it 
so  to  speak  lives  and  breathes.184 

Imagine  the  hero  of  this  tale  to  be  man  rather  than  a  wavy 
line!  How  he  would  be  seen  in  all  realms  of  meaning,  all  forms 
of  culture — a  symbol  himself  of  his  own  striving  and  achieve- 
ment, the  central  system  of  co-ordination  of  all  life  activities. 
"The  symbolic  process  is  like  a  unique  life  and  thought  current 
which  flows  through  consciousness  and  which  in  its  flowing 
motion  alone  brings  about  the  variety  and  continuity  of  con- 
sciousness in  all  its  fullness."185  In  the  unity  of  that  flow  man 
would  become  integrated,  from  the  mythical  depth  of  con- 
sciousness— the  well  of  the  past  from  which  Thomas  Mann 
brought  forth  his  Joseph  figures186 — to  the  highest  height  of 
mathematics,  music,  and  mysticism.187 

181 PSF,  III,  231  j  Cf.  Cassirer  "Das  Symbolproblem  und  seine  Stellung  im  Sys- 
tem der  Philosophic,"  Zeitschrift  fur  Asthettk  und,  allgemeine  Kumtwissenschajt, 
Bd.  XXI,  191  ff.  Cf.  supra  112  f. 

185  PSF,  III,  234- 

188  Cf .  Thomas  Mann  on  the  combination  of  psychology  and  myth  in  Kerenyi, 
op.  cit.,  82$  also  "Freud  and  the  Future,"  in  Freud,  Goethe,  Wagner,  New  York: 
Alfred  A.  Knopf,  1942,  298. 

**  For  then  the  process  of  objectivation  would  not  be  completed  in  the  mathe- 
matical symbols — symbols  for  nature  rather  than  for  human  nature.  It  may  be 
that  those  symbols  will  also  aid  in  the  objectivation  of  man  toward  himself,  the 
objectivation  of  his  own  psyche:  his  emotions  and  desires.  Perhaps  Spinoza  was 


332  ROBERT  S.  HARTMAN 

So  far  the  highest  realms  of  the  vertical  synthesis  have  not 
been  reached.  Cassirer's  work  is  unfinished  and  waits  for  com- 
pletion. The  mysticism  of  the  artist,  the  musicality  of  the  mathe- 
matician, all  these  are  symbolic  forms  and  elaborations  of  lower 
forms  as  truly  as  mathematics  is  the  elaboration  of  the  lower 
symbolic  forms  of  myth  and  language.  Perhaps  Cassirer  had 
intended  to  show  us  these  connections  in  his  projected  volume 
on  the  symbolic  forms  of  Aesthetics.  As  it  is,  the  work  must 
be  completed  by  us,  the  epigones.  But  we  too  shall  only  be 
precursors,  preparers  of  the  day  "when  the  human  intelligence, 
elevated  to  its  perfect  type,  shall  shine  forth  glorified  in  some 
future  Mozart-Dirichlet  or  Beethoven-Gauss."188  Cassirer's 
work  points  toward  a  future  of  symbolic  forms  so  rich  that 
man's  present  culture  appears  very  primitive  indeed. 

In  1910,  at  about  the  time  when  Cassirer's  first  great  work 
appeared,  another  great  mind  was  concerned  with  the  future. 
Leo  Tolstoy,  shortly  before  his  death,  dictated  to  his  daughter 
Anastasia  a  strange  prophecy.  He  predicted  the  coming  of 
world  wars,  the  sway  of  a  strange  figure  from  the  North,  "a 
new  Napoleon,"  and  finally,  a  "federation  of  the  United  States 
of  nations."  After  that 

I  see  a  change  in  religious  sentiment.  .  .  .  The  ethical  idea  has  almost 
vanished.  Humanity  is  without  the  moral  feeling.  But  then  a  great  re- 
former arises.  ...  I  see  the  peaceful  beginning  of  an  ethical  era.  .  .  . 
In  the  middle  of  this  century  I  see  a  hero  of  literature  and  art  rising  .  .  . 
and  purging  the  world  of  the  tedious  stuff  of  the  obvious.  It  is  the  light 
of  symbolism  that  shall  outshine  the  torch  of  commercialism™* 

Cassirer's  life  was  dedicated  to  the  self-liberation  of  man 
through  symbolism.  Everything  for  him,  like  for  Rodin,190 

on  the  right  road  with  his  geometric  ethics.  But  the  "grammar  of  emotions"  may 
have  to  be  written,  ultimately  in  a  more  fitting  script:  that  of  musical  and  mysti- 
cal symbolism.  To  the  latter  point  see  Essay  on  Man,  102.  Concerning  the  in- 
sufficiency of  mathematical  symbolism  even  for  the  comprehension  of  nature  cf. 
Cassirer,  "Goethe  and  Kantian  Philosophy"  in  Rousseau,  Kant,  Goethe,  64.8.,  8 if. 

388  James  Joseph  Sylvester  in  a  paper  on  Newton's  rule  for  the  discovery  of 
imaginery  roots  of  algebraic  equations,  quoted  from  £.  T.  Bell,  Men  of  Mathe- 
matics, New  York:  Simon  and  Schuster,  1937,  4O4f. 

1S9Forman,  Henry  James,  The  Story  of  Prophecy,  New  York:  Tudor  Publish- 
ing Company:  1939,  25 3 f. 

190  Story,  of.  cit.,  17. 


PHILOSOPHY  OF  SYMBOLIC  FORMS  333 

was  "idea  and  symbol  j"  like  Rodin  "he  sought  in  the  energy 
of  the  human  body  and  its  symbolism  for  the  origins  of  all  re- 
ligions, all  philosophy  and  poetry."191  The  ethical  era  to  come 
must  be  built  to  a  large  extent  on  his  work.  His  morality  was, 
like  Rodin's,192  the  comprehensive  love  of  life  and  of  all  its 
forms.  Rodin  "opened  a  vast  window  in  the  pale  house  of 
modern  statuary,  and  made  of  sculpture,  which  had  been  a 
timid,  compromised  art,  one  that  was  audacious  and  full  of 
life."193  So  Cassirer  opened  a  large  window  in  the  pale  house 
of  modern  critical  philosophy  and  made  of  epistemology,  which 
had  been  a  timid,  compromised  discipline,  one  that  was  auda- 
cious and  full  of  life.  He  prepared  the  horizontal-vertical 
integration  of  man's  soul  and  culture  —  a  symbolic  cross,  to 
which  man  will  not  be  fixed  in  agony,  but  in  which  he  will  live. 

ROBERT  S.  HARTMAN 

DEPARTMENT  OF  PHILOSOPHY 
OHIO  STATE  UNIVERSITY 


2  Story,  op.  cit.,  n. 


9 

Folke  Leander 

FURTHER  PROBLEMS  SUGGESTED  BY  THE 
PHILOSOPHY  OF  SYMBOLIC  FORMS 


FURTHER  PROBLEMS  SUGGESTED  BY  THE 
PHILOSOPHY  OF  SYMBOLIC  FORMS 

ONE  should  take  everything  for  what  it  is,  not  criticize  it 
for  not  being  what  it  is  not" — such  was  the  critical  maxim 
of  the  Swedish  poet-philosopher  Thomas  Thorild  (1759-1806), 
on  whom,  incidentally,  Cassirer  has  written  an  excellent  book. 
It  is,  however,  exceedingly  difficult  to  criticize  Cassirer  for 
what  he  does  say,  and  much  easier  to  point  to  the  unsolved 
problems  which  he  never  set  out  to  solve.  Cassirer's  method  in 
The  Philosophy  of  Symbolic  Forms  is  that  of  concentrating  his 
attention  on  a  very  limited  number  of  major  problems,  treating 
them  exhaustively,  adducing  a  great  wealth  of  linguistic,  mytho- 
logical, and  psychological  material  to  prove  his  point.  The 
numerous  and  widespread  errors  he  refutes  are  disproved  very 
thoroughly.  He  rarely  "sticks  his  neck  out,"  as  the  Americans 
say.  There  is  a  certain  finality  about  all  this  and  little  tempta- 
tion for  the  student  to  quote  a  passage  and  disagree  with  it.  In 
fact,  if  you  accept  the  view  that  all  thought,  in  so  far  as  it  is 
really  thought,  must  necessarily  be  true,  all  criticism  must  con- 
sist in  drawing  attention  to  omissions.  Only,  in  Cassirer's  case 
you  rarely  find  the  omissions  mixed  up  with  and  vitiating  what 
he  does  say,  which  latter  will  generally  be  found  to  be  unim- 
peachable, as  far  as  it  goes.  These  introductory  remarks  may 
serve  to  explain  the  nature  of  the  following  pages,  which  are 
intended  primarily  to  point  to  further  problems  suggested  by 
Cassirer's  philosophy.  The  problems  suggested  are:  i)  the  uni- 
fication of  the  pre-scientific  symbolic  forms;  2)  a  more  careful 
distinction  between  form  and  material  j  3)  an  analysis  of  the 
logic  of  history  and  the  logic  of  philosophy.  I  will  try  to  show 
how  these  desiderata  grew  out  of  Cassirer's  own  philosophy. 

337 


338  FOLKE  LEANDER 

I 

The  Unification  of  the  Pre-Scientific  Symbolic  Forms 

As  Theodor  Litt1  has  remarked,  the  whole  of  Cassirer's 
philosophy  of  symbolic  forms  may  be  regarded  as  a  synthesis 
of  Kant  and  Herder,  or  as  an  adoption  into  the  former's  phi- 
losophy of  the  wider  sphere  of  interest  represented  by  the  latter. 
Kant's  epistemology,  devised  to  explain  the  possibility  of  New- 
tonian physics,  must  be  broadened  so  as  to  include  aesthetics, 
the  theory  of  language,  and  the  philosophy  of  mythology.  It 
is  high  time  for  epistemologists  to  rid  themselves  of  the  superior 
attitude  often  taken  towards  language,  myth,  and  especially  art, 
as  if  these  things  did  not  concern  them.  As  Cassirer  shows  they 
are  the  basis  of  our  knowing  life,  the  basis  upon  which  even 
science  rests.  Cassirer  has  admirably  instructive  studies  of  two  of 
the  pre-scientific  symbolic  forms,  language  and  myth.  There  is, 
however,  no  volume  on  art,  and  this  fact  is  seldom  mentioned. 

So  far  so  good.  We  have  every  reason  to  be  grateful  for 
these  excellent  books.  Yet  one  should  like  to  know  more  about 
the  way  these  pre-scientific  symbolic  forms  are  related  to  one 
another.  How  does  Cassirer  know  there  are  three  of  them? 
How  does  he  arrive  at  them?  He  simply  takes  over  the  popu- 
lar delimitations  without  caring  about  the  objections  that 
myth  may  be  a  mixture  of  artistic  imagination  and  practical  emo- 
tion of  a  certain  kind,  and  language  a  crudely  delimited  type  of 
art  or,  alternatively,  art  a  crudely  delimited  type  of  language. 
He  projects  the  idea  that  aesthetics  is  the  general  science  of 
pre-scientific  symbolism ;  but  he  rejected  it  without  anything  re- 
sembling real  disproof.2 

In  Sfrache  und  Mythos  (Leipzig  1925),  pp.  65!?.,  he  dis- 
cusses at  length  the  relations  of  language,  myth  and  art.  He 
begins  by  pointing  out  that  language  and  myth  have  "a  com- 
mon root"  and  are  the  products  of  an  ultimately  identical 
mental  function  (eine  lefote  Gemeinsamkeit  in  der  Fwnktion 
des  Gestaltens).  They  are  both  the  products  of  "metaphorical 
thinking."  He  quotes  from  Max  Muller:  "Whether  he  wanted 

1  Kant  und  Herder  als  Deuter  der  geistigen  Welt,  Leipzig  (1930),  285 f. 
*  Die  Sfrache,  Berlin  (1923),  12 of. 


FURTHER  PROBLEMS  OF  SYMBOLIC  FORMS    339 

to  or  not,  man  had  to  speak  in  metaphors,  not  because  he  could 
not  restrain  his  poetic  imagination,  but  rather  because  he  had 
to  use  it  to  the  utmost  in  order  to  find  expressions  for  the  ever- 
growing needs  of  his  mind."  The  growth  of  intuition,  accord- 
ingly, is  correlative  to  the  growth  of  poetic  symbolism.  The 
common  root  of  language  and  myth  turns  out  also  to  be  the 
root  of  poetryj  in  fact,  we  are  told,  they  are  originally  one, 
and  the  distinctions  between  them  were  gradually  introduced. 
"Myth,  language  and  art  begin  as  a  concrete,  undivided  unity, 
which  is  only  gradually  resolved  into  a  triad  of  independent 
modes  of  spiritual  creativity."3 

The  critic  will  remark  that  there  are  distinctions  and  dis- 
tinctions— they  need  not  all  be  of  the  same  kind.  Some  may  be 
fundamental  and  "real,"  whereas  others  are  "merely  empirical," 
more  or  less  arbitrary  cuts  in  a  flowing  continuum.  Cassirer's 
Kantianism  will  scarcely  allow  him  to  put  the  distinctions  be- 
tween abstract  and  concrete,  or  theoretical  and  practical,  moral 
good  and  sensuous  satisfaction  on  a  level  with  the  arbitrary  dis- 
tinction between,  say,  a  chair  and  a  sofa,  where  all  sorts  of 
intermediary  forms  are  conceivable.  It  is  a  question  of  logic 
whether  you  accept  "real"  distinctions  as  ultimately  different 
from  "merely  empirical"  or  "pragmatic"  ones.  But  whatever 
your  ultimate  decision  on  this  point  of  logic  will  be,  you  will 
certainly  have  to  admit  a  difference  of  status.  Now  the  critic 
may  maintain  that  the  distinctions  gradually  emerging  between 
language,  myth,  and  art  are  of  the  "merely  empirical"  variety 
and  that  pre-scientifi.c  symbolism  is  "really"  the  same  activity 
everywhere. 

Cassirer  describes  the  creation  of  myth  and  language  in  the 
very  terms  in  which  others  describe  the  process  of  artistic  crea- 
tion. Myth  arises  from  an  emotional  tension  between  man  and 
his  environment: 

then  the  spark  jumps  somehow  across,  the  tension  finds  release,  as  the 
subjective  excitement  becomes  objectified,  and  confronts  the  mind  as  a 
god  or  a  daemon.  .  .  .4  As  soon  as  the  spark  has  jumped  across,  as  soon 
as  the  tension  and  emotion  of  the  moment  has  found  its  discharge  in 

9  Language  and  Myth  (S.  Langer  translation,  1945),  98. 
33- 


340  FOLKE  LEANDER 

the  word  as  the  mythical  image,  a  sort  of  turning  point  has  occurred  in 
human  mentality:  the  inner  excitement  which  was  a  mere  subjective 
state  has  vanished,  and  has  been  resolved  into  the  objective  form  of 
myth  or  of  speech.5 

If  anything  can  be  objected  to  in  this  statement,  it  is  that  the 
additional  practical  emotion  characteristic  of  myth  is  here  over- 
looked in  favour  of  a  complete  identification  with  art.  The 
subjective  practical  emotion  is  never  completely  expressed  in 
the  mythical  image,  as  is  the  case  in  pure  art,  but  remains  as 
terror  and  awe;  and  to  this  is  added  the  practical  act  of  "belief." 
There  is  a  profound  difference  between  scientific  symbolism 
on  the  one  hand,  and  pre-scientific  symbolism  on  the  other. 
The  function  of  the  latter,  according  to  Cassirer,  is  intuitive 
elaboration  of  experience  (Intensivierung  is  his  own  term), 
whereas  the  former  aims  at  discursive  mastery,  by  means  of 
rules  and  procedures,  of  a  world  already  intuitively  appre- 
hended. Science  moves  on  the  discursive  level,  the  level  of  gen- 
eral concepts  (Allgemeinbegriffe}  and  laws.  But  this  level  of 
rationality  could  not  exist  by  itself  and  must  everywhere  attach 
itself  to  something  more  basic.  The  intuitive  level  of  experience 
is  experience  elaborated  by  means  of  linguistic,  mythical,  and 
artistic  symbolism.6 


£*.,  3  6. 

8  In  myth,  says  Cassirer,  "thought  does  not  dispose  freely  over  the  data  of 
intuition,  in  order  to  relate  and  compare  them  to  each  other,  but  is  captivated  and 
enthralled  by  the  intuition  which  suddenly  confronts  it.  It  comes  to  rest  in  the 
immediate  experience  j  the  sensible  present  is  so  great  that  everything  else  dwindles 
before  it."  (Ibid.y  32.)  ".  .  .  the  immediate  content,  whatever  it  be,  that  commands 
his  religious  interest  so  completely  fills  his  consciousness  that  nothing  else  can  exist 
beside  and  apart  from  it.  The  ego  is  spending  all  its  energy  on  this  single  object, 
lives  in  it,  loses  itself  in  it."  (Ibid.,  33.)  This  would  also  be  an  excellent  description 
of  the  aesthetic  attitude,  the  common  element  being  intuitive  elaboration,  or 
"Intensivierung,"  of  experience. 

"Language  and  myth  stand  in  an  original  and  indissoluble  correlation  with  one 
another,  from  which  they  both  emerge  but  gradually  as  independent  elements.  They 
are  two  diverse  shoots  from  the  same  parent  stem,  the  same  impulse  of  symbolic 
formulation,  springing  from  the  same  basic  mental  activity,  a  concentration  and 
heightening  of  simple  sensory  experience.  In  the  vocables  of  speech  and  in  primitive 
mythic  figurations,  the  same  inner  process  finds  its  consummation:  they  are  both 
resolutions  of  an  inner  tension,  the  representation  of  subjective  impulses  and 
excitations  in  definite  objective  forms  and  figures."  (Ibid.,  88.)  Can  anyone  fail 


FURTHER  PROBLEMS  OF  SYMBOLIC  FORMS    341 

The  sharp  distinction  between  the  two  levels  of  experience — 
discursive  and  intuitive — does  not  imply,  of  course,  that  mean- 
ings belong  merely  to  the  discursive  level.  There  are  also  mean- 
ings on  the  intuitive  level,  though  of  a  different  kind.  They 
may  be  termed  "felt  identities/'  "affinities,"  "qualia,"  "char- 
acters}" as  caught  and  held  in  symbols,  Cassirer  terms  them 
"Sfrachbegriffe,"  "mythische  Begriffe,"  etc. 

It  appears,  then,  that  language,  myth,  and  art  have  a  common 
task  in  the  theoretical  life  of  man,  namely,  the  intuitive  mastery 
of  experience.  This  would  seem  to  make  it  imperative  to  dis- 
criminate between  the  theoretical  and  the  practical-emotional 
aspects  of  myth,  in  which  case  the  former  could  hardly  fail  to 
be  identified  with  art.  A  similar  failure  to  distinguish  between 
the  theoretical  and  the  practical  vitiates  Cassirer's  use  of  the 
term  "expressional  phenomenon,"  by  which  he  means  the  emo- 
tional qualities  of  phenomena.  In  so  far  as  emotion  is  subservient 
to  intuition,  it  is  aesthetic}  but  it  may  also  obstruct  the  intuitive 
elaboration  of  experience  and  may  then  be  called  practical. 
Practical  emotional  qualities  are  stimuli  to  immediate  practical 
reaction:  we  give  up  the  attitude  of  contemplation,  of  intuitive 
elaboration.  Thus  sudden  fear,  if  detrimental  to  intuition,  is 
practical,  whereas  the  grandiose,  the  sublime  and  even  the  ter- 
rible may  be  aesthetic  qualities.  The  distinction  is  blurred  by  the 
use  of  the  term  "expressional  qualities"  no  less  than  in  the 
phrases  current  among  English-speaking  philosophers:  "terti- 
ary qualities"  and  the  like. 

One  should  also  note  that  the  function  Cassirer  ascribes  to 
language  is  intuitive  mastery  of  experience.  For  one  of  the 
things  that  have  evidently  puzzled  him  most,  is  the  "logical" 
element  of  language.  But,  when  raising  this  problem,  he  in- 
variably makes  a  metabasis  eis  allo  genos  and  passes  from  pre- 

to  see  that  this  is  a  perfect  description  of  the  process  of  artistic  creation?   Could 
there  be  a  better  proof  that  myth  and  language  are  aesthetic  products? 

If  discursive  thinking  "tends  toward  expansion,  implication,  and  systematic 
connection,  the  verbal  and  mythical  conception  tends  toward  concentration,  tele- 
scoping, separate  characterization."  (Ibid.,  56.)  "Here  thought  does  not  confront 
its  data  in  an  attitude  of  free  contemplation,  seeking  to  understand  their  structure 
and  their  systematic  connections,  and  analyzing  them  according  to  their  parts  and 
functions,  but  is  simply  captivated  by  a  total  impression."  (Ibid.,  57.) 


342  FOLKE  LEANDER 

scientific  to  scientific  symbolism,  asserting  that  the  same 
"Logos"  that  is  operative  in  scientific  symbolism,  is  also  at  work 
in  pre-scientific  symbolism.  If  we  ask  what  is  here  meant  by 
Logos,  we  find  that  several  different  meanings  are  crowded 
together  into  one  term.  "Logos"  may  mean  spiritual  synthesis 
in  general:  and  in  this  case  it  is,  of  course,  true  that  Logos  is 
operative  in  pre-scientific  symbolism.  But  Logos  may  also  mean 
the  thinking  of  scientific  and  general  concepts:  and  in  this  case 
it  can  be  shown,  I  think,  that  Logos  is  altogether  outside  of  in- 
tuition and  of  pre-scientific  symbolism,  although  it  may  leave 
results  that  may  be  absorbed  in  the  latter.  (I  shall  explain  pres- 
ently what  is  meant  by  the  last  clause.) 

As  we  have  seen,  meanings,  according  to  Cassirer,  are  found 
also  on  the  intuitive  level;  as  caught  and  held  in  linguistic 
symbols  they  are  "Sfrachbegriffe"  not  to  be  confused  with 
general  or  scientific  concepts.  When  he  asserts  that  the  same 
Logos  is  operative  in  the  creation  of  "S-prachbe griff eP  which 
on  a  higher  level  is  operative  in  the  creation  of  scientific  con- 
cepts, this  assertion  is  only  acceptable  if  Logos  means  Geist  in 
general.  But  Cassirer  also  means  that  "Sprachbegriffe"  are  a 
confused  and  preliminary  creation  of  Logos  in  the  sense  of 
scientific  intellect.  This  latter  assertion  seems  to  me  untenable. 

The  confusion  is  made  possible  by  the  fact  that  general  and 
scientific  concepts  may  be  "absorbed"  into  intuition.  An  electric 
charge  is  one  thing  for  the  engineer  in  his  capacity  of  scientific 
specialist  5  it  is  a  different  thing  for  the  layman  and  even  for 
the  engineer  himself  qua  non-specialist.  What  was  originally 
a  mere  formula,  a  rule  of  procedure,  may  through  practice  and 
experience  of  its  effects  be  transformed  into  an  intuitive  affinity, 
a  quale,  a  Gestalt,  a  characteristic  physiognomy.  As  John  Dewey 
puts  it: 

In  the  situation  which  follows  upon  reflection,  meanings  are  intrinsic; 
they  have  no  instrumental  or  subservient  office,  because  they  have  no 
office  at  all.  They  are  as  much  qualities  of  the  objects  in  the  situation  as 
are  red  and  black,  hard  and  soft,  square  and  round.  And  every  re- 
flective experience  adds  new  shades  of  such  intrinsic  qualifications.7 

1  Essays  in  Experimental  Logic,  (1916)  17.  Cf.  also  How  We  Think,  (1933), 
135  ff.  ("Things  and  Meanings")*  and  Logic,  (1938)  ch.  VIII  ("Immediate 
Knowledge"). 


FURTHER  PROBLEMS  OF  SYMBOLIC  FORMS    343 

Perhaps  Dewey's  term  "intrinsic  qualifications"  is  better  than 
any  of  those  I  have  so  far  used  (affinity,  physiognomy,  quale, 
etc.).  Discursive  procedures,  then,  may  grow  intuitive,  ideas 
may  lose  their  intellectual  quality  by  habitual  use.  And,  as  a 
parallel  process,  general  and  scientific  concepts  may  be  trans- 
formed into  "Sfrachbegriffe"  Dewey  distinguishes  between 
two  types  of  grasp  of  meaning:  the  strictly  logical  type  and  the 
"aesthetic"  perception  of  intrinsic  qualifications,  which  is  some- 
times called  acquaintance-knowledge.  We  apprehend  chairs, 
tables,  books,  trees,  horses,  stars,  rain,  etc.,  promptly  and  di- 
rectly $  we  need  not  think  about  these  things  in  order  to  identify 
them;  we  cannot  help  seeing  them  as  chairs,  tables,  etc. 

Certainly  logical  thought-processes  leave  results  in  intuition  j 
the  starry  heavens,  for  instance,  look  different  to  us  from  what 
they  did  to  a  contemporary  of  Dante.  But  there  is  also  a  move- 
ment in  the  opposite  direction.  "Red"  meant  originally  an  in- 
tuitively felt  affinity  j  but  when  definite  procedures  have  been 
developed, — e.g.y  the  colour-pyramid, — it  may  mean  a  loom 
within  the  system. 

In  spite  of  all  this  give  and  take,  however,  the  intuitive  and 
the  discursive  levels  remain  different.  Since  the  aim  and  func- 
tion of  "Sfrachbegriffe?*  is  altogether  different  from  that  of 
general  and  scientific  concepts,  the  former  cannot  be  viewed  as 
an  inferior  and  undeveloped  variety  of  the  latter.  Yet  the  inter- 
play between  the  levels  is  certainly  misleading.  On  the  intuitive 
level,  Cassirer  says,  meanings  are  "fused"  (eingeschmolzen) 
with  the  concrete.8  And  he  paints  a  picture  of  the  poor  Logos 
like  a  butterfly  grovelling  in  the  dust,  until  in  science  it  dis- 
engages itself  from  the  many-coloured  intuition,  rises  into  the 
air,  and  starts  out  on  a  proud  flight  in  its  own  proper  element.9 

1  Phanomenologie der  Erkenntiris,  (1929),  327. 

9  Phanomenologie  der  Erkenntms,  395!.  "It  is  true  that  an  abyss  appears  to  yawn 
between  the  scientific  concept  and  the  verbal  concept — however,  looked  at  more 
closely  this  abyss  is  exactly  the  same  gulf  which  thinking  had  to  bridge  earlier 
before  it  could  become  verbal  thought.  .  .  .  Now  thought  has  to  tear  loose  not 
merely  from  the  here  and  now,  from  the  respective  location  and  moment,  but  it 
has  to  reach  beyond  the  totality  of  space  and  time,  beyond  the  limits  of  perceptual 
description,  and  of  description  and  describability  in  general.  .  .  .  The  Vehicle*  of 
word-language  which  served  for  so  long  a  time,  will  now  bear  him  no  farther- 
but  he  feels  himself  strong  and  powerful  enough  to  risk  the  flight  which  is  to 
carry  him  to  a  new  goal." 


344  FOLKE  LEANDER 

But  this  metaphor  is  objectionable.  The  Logos  flying  discur- 
sively in  the  air  is  different  from  that  working  intuitively  within 
experience.  Both  are  needed  $  but  the  intuitive  Logos  is  no 
preliminary  variety  of  the  scientific  Logos. 

This  panlogistic  tendency  is  incompatible  with  the  main 
body  of  Cassirer's  thought.  For  he  teaches  that  language  is  in 
essence  intuitive  elaboration  (Intensvolerung)  of  experience. 
And  he  also  teaches  that  the  "logical"  element  of  language,  in 
so  far  as  "Sprachbegriffe"  are  concerned,  should  not  be  called 
logical  at  all,  if  we  distinguish  between  an  intuitive  and  a  dis- 
cursive, logical  level  of  experience.  Language  is  correlative  to 
intrinsic  qualifications,  characters,  physiognomies,  qualia,  affini- 
ties, or  whatever  term  may  be  used  for  the  meanings  belonging 
to  the  intuitive  level. 

All  this,  the  critic  will  add,  proves  that  language  is  essentially 
an  aesthetic  activity.  Of  course,  in  reasoning  language  is  the 
bearer  of  logical  meanings;  yet  even  pure  mathematics  has 
an  aesthetic  side,  since  it  is  an  existential  thought-process.  The 
mathematical  concepts  are  embodied  in  aesthetically  meaningful 
concrete  processes.  Words,  says  Cassirer,  are  mere  "signs"  or 
"vehicles"  of  logical  meanings.10  The  relation  between  intuitive 
meanings  and  language  is  that  of  vital  incarnation.  Words  ex- 
press intuitive  meanings  but  statey  or  are  mere  signs  of,  logical 
meanings.  On  the  intuitive  level,  says  Cassirer,  "the  word  which 
denotes  that  thought  content  is  not  a  mere  conventional  symbol, 
but  is  merged  with  its  object  in  an  indissoluble  unity."11  If  the 
lightning  is  seen  as  a  snake,  it  will  also  be  called  "the  snake  of 

"For  it  is  precisely  the  'Logos/  which  was  at  work  from  the  beginning  in  the 
creation  of  language,  which,  in  the  progress  to  scientific  knowledge,  frees  itself 
from  the  limiting  conditions  which  originally  clung  to  it — which  proceeds  from 
its  implicit  form  into  its  explicit  form."  (Ibid.y  388) 

10  "For  theoretical  thinking,  a  word  is  essentially  a  vehicle  serving  the  funda- 
mental aim  of  such  ideation:  the  establishment  of  relationships  between  the  given 
phenomenon  and  others  which  are  "like"  it  or  otherwise  connected  with  it  according 
to  some  co-ordinating  law.  .  .  .  The  word  stands,  so  to  speak,  between  actual 
particular  impressions,  as  a  phenomenon  of  a  different  order,  a  new  intellectual 
dimension)    and  to  this  mediating  position,  this  remoteness  from  the  sphere  of 
immediate  data,  it  owes  the  freedom  and  ease  with  which  it  moves  among  specific 
objects  and  connects  one  with  another."  Language  and  Myth,  (Langer  tr.)  56f. 

11  Language  and  Myth,  58. 


FURTHER  PROBLEMS  OF  SYMBOLIC  FORMS    345 

the  sky:"  intuitive  elaboration  and  linguistic  naming  is  here  one 
and  the  same  activity.  "The  spiritual  excitement  caused  by  some 
object  which  presents  itself  in  the  outer  world  furnishes  both 
the  occasion  and  the  means  of  its  denomination.  Sense  impres- 
sions .  .  .  naturally  strive  for  vocal  expression."12  Language  and 
intuition  are  correlative  and  develop  together.  Intuitive  mean- 
ings are  vitally  fused  with  intuition,  and  so  they  are  fused  with 
language.  Scientific  and  general  concepts,  on  the  other  hand, 
are  externally  related  to  intuition  and  have  a  corresponding 
status  in  its  correlative,  language.  Since  this  is  Cassirer's  own 
view,  why  does  he  reject  the  aesthetic  theory  of  language?  He 
not  only  rejects  it  but  misrepresents  it  as  wanting  to  reduce 
language  to  mere  animal  expression,  to  mere  "naturliche  Sym- 
bolik"  mere  "Laut  der  Emfindung."™  But  surely  nothing  of 
the  sort  has  been  meant  by  those  who  have  held  the  theory  in 
question. 

A  significant  omission  is  Cassirer's  failure  to  mention  Baum- 
garten  in  his  survey  of  the  history  of  the  philosophy  of  lan- 
guage. Certainly  his  view  of  oratio  sensitive  as  correlative  to 
cognitio  sensitivat  or  intuition,  is  worthy  of  close  attention.  The 
"distinct"  concepts,  Leibniz  had  said,  are  exemplified  in  our 
conceptual  methods  of  recognizing  objects  as  belonging  to  a 
class;  but  there  is  also  an  intuitive  way  of  recognizing  them. 
We  immediately  see  chairs  as  chairs  and  feel  no  need  of  pro- 
ceeding by  rule.  This  is  the  level  of  "clear  but  confused"  cate- 
gories, i.e.y  of  everyday  intuition  and,  as  Baumgarten  pointed 
out,  in  its  most  intense  form  the  level  of  art.  For  art  is  perfectio 
cognition/is  semitivaey  qua  talis.  In  the  same  way,  ordinary 
speech  is  inherently  aesthetic,  oratio  sensitiva,  although  the 
word  poetry  is  reserved  for  its  more  intense  form,  oratio  sensi- 
tiva  ferfecta.  What  Baumgarten  means  by  "sensitive"  speech 
might  be  freely  expressed  as  follows.  The  nature  of  speech  is 
that  of  "painting  a  picture"  of  something,  e.g.,  of  something 
I  want  you  to  do,  or  of  the  field  where  the  point  is  localized 
on  which  I  want  you  to  give  me  information.  Of  course,  the 
analogy  with  painting  must  not  be  pressed:  it  only  lays  hold  of 

18  Ibid.)  89.  H.  Usener,  as  quoted  by  Cassirer. 

18  Ibid.,  3  of.  Cf.  also  Zur  Logik  der  Kulturwtsstnscfaften,  37^  ' 


346  FOLKE  LEANDER 

the  fact  that  the  function  of  speech  is  that  of  conjuring  up  some- 
thing concrete,  however  "thin,"  schematic,  and  bare  of  details 
it  may  be.  Even  a  newspaper  headline  is  oratio  sensitiva,  al- 
though ordinarily  very  far  from  ferfecta. 

It  is  strange  that  Cassirer,  the  distinguished  Leibnizian 
scholar,  should  have  made  no  use  of  the  philosophy  of  lan- 
guage proposed  by  Baumgarten,  the  founder  of  aesthetics.  Here 
is  a  perfect  distinction  between  the  conceptual  and  the  intuitive 
levels  of  experience.  The  "affinities"  or  general  "characters" 
belonging  to  the  latter  level  are  accounted  for  as  "confused 
concepts."  And  language  is  seen  to  be  the  correlative  of  intui- 
tion. All  this  returns  in  Cassirer's  own  philosophy,  even  the 
doubtful  part  of  Leibniz-Baumgarten,  namely,  the  view  of 
intuitive  reason  as  an  imperfect  and  preliminary  form  of  scien- 
tific reason.  Only  Baumgarten's  insight  into  the  fundamentally 
aesthetic  nature  of  intuition  and  language  has  fallen  out  of  the 
picture.  I  believe  it  will  have  to  be  re-introduced. 

II 

A  More  Careful  Distinction  between  Form  and  Material 

One  may  note  in  Cassirer  a  certain  attachment  to  what  Dewey 
has  termed  "the  museum  conception  of  art."  Dewey  holds  the 
view  that  any  experience  to  the  extent  to  which  it  is  an  experi- 
ence, is  aesthetic14 — an  idea  that  goes  back  to  Baumgarten, 
Herder,  and  the  romantics.  From  this  point  of  view  a  "tran- 
scendental aesthetics"  would  not  be  the  doctrine  of  mathemati- 
cal time  and  space  but  simply  aesthetics.  The  subjects  dealt  with 
by  Kant  at  the  end  of  his  system,  in  the  Critique  of  Judgment, 
would  be  placed  at  the  very  beginning  of  the  system.  Or  rather, 
since  all  rationality  is  "absorbed"  and  all  practical  emotion  is 
expressed  in  intuition,  the  doctrine  of  intuition  would  be  at 
once  at  the  end  and  at  the  beginning  of  the  system,  which  would 
accordingly  be  as  circular  as  experience  itself:  Theodor  Litt 
says  that  if  Kant  had  ever  discovered  real  intuition  as  some- 
thing very  different  from  mathematical  tiipe  and  space,  he 
would  hardly  have  failed  to  place  art  on  this  level ;  and  further, 

14  Art  at  Experience,  (x  934) . 


FURTHER  PROBLEMS  OF  SYMBOLIC  FORMS    347 

"he  could  not  have  been  able  to  escape  the  insight  which 
dominated  a  Herder,  namely  that  aesthetic  experiences  stand 
by  no  means  alone  in  this  regard,  but  rather  constitute  the 
highest  intensification  of  the  spiritual  situation  which  runs 
through  all  and  every  sensory  world  view."16  In  short,  the  true 
"transcendental  aesthetics"  is  simply  aesthetics;  intuition  and  its 
correlative,  the  pre-scientific  symbolism,  may  be  divided  and 
subdivided  in  many  ways  by  means  of  "merely  empirical"  dis- 
tinctions, but  "really"  it  is  one  identical  activity  everywhere — 
an  activity,  which  in  its  more  intense  form  is  recognized  as 
aesthetic.  A  division  of  our  intuitive  acts  into  "more  intense" 
and  "less  intense"  would  itself  be  merely  empirical.  "We  all 
take  some  pleasure,"  says  Dr.  Barnes,  "in  seeing  how  things 
look,  in  observing  their  colour,  their  contour,  their  movement, 
whether  they  are  moving  in  our  direction  or  not.  In  so  far  as 
we  are  successful  in  finding  what  is  characteristic,  appealing, 
or  significant  in  the  world  about  us,  we  are,  in  a  small  im- 
promptu way,  ourselves  artists."16  He  adds  that  "the  artist 
differs  from  the  ordinary  person  partly  by  his  ability  to  make 
what  he  sees  a  public  object,  but  chiefly  in  the  range  and  depth 
of  his  vision  itself."17  A  novelist  spending  weeks  and  months  on 
working  out  a  "great"  intuition,  merely  intensifies  an  activity 
in  which  we  are  all  engaged.  We  all  want  clarity  of  vision  and 
imaginative  interpretation  of  experience.  As  Cassirer  points  out, 
the  poet  does  not  "know"  what  he  wants  to  say,  until  he  has 
said  it;  he  obscurely  feels  something  working  within  him,  but 
he  does  not  know  what,  until  he  has  defined  it  in  a  work  of 
art.18  Similarly,  it  might  be  added,  workmen  had  no  "class- 
consciousness"  until  Marx  and  others  created  their  "myths"  (as 
Sorel  would  say) ;  surely  there  were  all  sorts  of  obscure  feelings 
among  the  workmen,  but  they  were  not  articulated.  In  the 
same  way,  we  are  all  dependent  upon  poets,  prophets  and 
artists  for  our  imaginative  interpretation  of  experience.  There 
is  no  difference  of  kind  between  our  everyday  intuitive  activities 

v  Kant  und  Herder,  61 . 

M  Albert  C.  Barnes:  The  Art  in  Painting,  3rd  ed.  (1937)  12. 

"Ibid.,  13. 

*  Zur  Logik  der  Kulturwissenschaften,  1 30. 


348  FOLKE  LEANDER 

and  those  of  the  great  "seers,"  merely  a  difference  of  intensity 
and  degree.  Just  as  the  science  of  biology  deals  with  cells  as 
well  as  elephants,  so  the  science  of  intuition  deals  with  everyday 
intuitive  awareness,  however  insignificant,  as  well  as  with  those 
greater  intuitions  recognized  as  aesthetic. 

Anyone  who  takes  such  a  broad  view  of  aesthetics  will  almost 
inevitably  be  led  to  look  upon  the  division  of  Art  into  various 
arts  and  genres  as  "merely  empirical"  distinctions.  Surely  the 
distinction  between  art  and  science  is  "real"  in  a  sense  in  which 
the  distinctions  between  various  arts  are  superficial  and  "prag- 
matic." Cassirer  on  the  other  hand,  not  having  freed  himself 
entirely  from  the  "museum"  idea  of  art,  believes  that  the  main 
arts  and  genres  are  a  priori,  inherent  in  the  very  idea,  the  "cate- 
gory" of  art.  I  do  not  know  whether  or  not  Cassirer  would 
nowadays  accept  the  "panaesthetic"  conception  of  experience. 
But,  even  if  he  does,  he  will  certainly  cling  to  his  view  of  cer- 
tain major  arts  as  a  priori,  categorically  (not  merely  em- 
pirically) distinct. 

The  objections  to  such  a  view  seem  to  me  very  strong.  After 
all,  a  human  race  may  be  conceived  having  neither  eyes  nor  ears 
and  yet  endowed  with  a  type  of  experience  resembling  our  own 
in  certain  general  traits.  Their  art  would  be  very  different  from 
ours.  Further,  new  arts  constantly  arise  in  the  course  of  his- 
tory. Painting  grew  out  of  Byzantine  mosaics  j  sculpture  was 
originally  an  integral  part  of  architecture — both  may  be  an 
integral  part  of  town-planning;  music  had  no  existence  apart 
from  song,  etc.  Recent  arts  are  the  movies  and  the  radio  drama. 
Art  is  the  activity  of  organizing  a  material  so  as  to  be  pleasing 
in  perception — so  as  to  give  the  perceiver  an  integral,  rounded 
"experience."  Since  any  material  or  combination  of  materials 
may  be  shaped  into  beauty,  the  number  of  artistic  media  is  in 
principle  unlimited.  To  what  art  belong  good  manners,  a  per- 
sonal style  of  dressing  and  talking,  pleasant  conversation — the 
sort  of  aesthetic  shaping  that  we  all  practice  daily?  Are  they 
one  art  or  several  arts?  It  might  seem  as  if  all  the  means  used 
to  give  a  total  unified  impression  ought  to  be  considered  one 
art.  Song  is  not  a  combination  of  two  arts,  poetry  plus  music, 
like  one  cake  put  upon  another.  In  dancing  to  music,  the  move- 


FURTHER  PROBLEMS  OF  SYMBOLIC  FORMS    349 

ments  and  the  music  are  fused  into  one  organic  whole  $  the 
division  into  two  arts  is  "merely  empirical,"  whereas  the 
aesthetic  reality  is  an  integral  whole.  When  the  Greeks  painted 
their  statues,  this  was  not  a  simple  addition  of  two  arts.  A 
church  service,  in  so  far  as  it  is  an  aesthetic  experience,  is  a 
whole,  although  numerous  media  may  be  empirically  distin- 
guished. Man,  says  Schiller,  "soil  alles  Inner  veraussern  und 
alles  Aussere  formen"  The  emphasis  should  be  put  upon 
"alles  Aussere" — all  materials  can  be  shaped  into  beauty,  the 
possible  media  are  infinite  in  number.  Historical  traditions  arise, 
certain  media  become  traditional  like  colours  on  canvas  or  theat- 
rical representation.  But  there  are  always  numerous  media 
which  do  not  fit  into  the  classifications  based  upon  the  more 
important  traditions.  Dewey  asks: 

What  can  such  classifications  make  out  of  sculpture  in  relief,  high  and 
low,  of  marble  figures  on  tombs,  carved  on  wooden  doors  and  cast  in 
bronze  doors?  What  about  carvings  on  capitals,  friezes,  cornices,  cano- 
pies, brackets?  How  do  the  minor  arts  fit  in,  workings  in  ivory,  alabaster, 
plaster-paris,  terra-cotta,  silver  and  gold,  ornamental  iron  work  in  brack, 
ets,  signs,  hinges,  screens  and  grills?19 

All  classifications  can  here  be  made,  since  the  materials  are  a 
continuum  with  all  sorts  of  intermediary  forms  and  endless 
overlappings  and  combinations.  If  we  distinguish  between  aes- 
thetic "form"  and  the  "material"  formed,  it  seems  evident 
that  the  differences  between  the  various  arts  and  genres  belong 
altogether  to  the  material  side  and  leave  aesthetic  form  un- 
affected. 

If  one  were  to  accept  such  a  theory,  Cassirer  objects, 

one  would,  by  so  doing,  be  led  to  the  strange  conclusion  that,  by 
calling  Beethoven  a  great  musician,  Rembrandt  a  great  painter,  Homer 
a  great  epic  poet,  Shakespeare  a  great  dramatist,  only  inconsequential 
empirical  marginal  conditions  were  expressed  by  such  assertions,  con- 
ditions aesthetically  quite  unimportant  and  for  their  characteristics  as 
artists  entirely  superfluous.20 

In  the  same  way,  one  might  argue,  it  is  no  indifferent  matter 

w  Art  as  Experience,  p.  223. 

20  Zw  Logik  der  Kulturwissensckaften,  p.  130. 


350  FOLKE  LEANDER 

that  Ariosto  wrote  a  romance  and  Virgil  an  epic,  or  that 
D.  G.  Rossetti  wrote  sonnets  and  Wordsworth  long  poems  as 
well  as  short.  No  such  things  are  indifferent — or  rather,  the 
one  important  thing,  to  which  everything  adds  up,  is  that 
Wordsworth  was  Wordsworth  and  Rossetti  was  Rossetti.  Of 
course,  it  is  no  matter  of  indifference  that  Shakespeare  wrote 
for  the  stage,  or,  in  brief,  all  such  circumstances  added  together, 
that  Shakespeare  was  Shakespeare.  Yet  aesthetically  the  essen- 
tial point  is  that  the  stage  as  a  traditional  medium  belonged  to 
the  "material"  side  of  his  works  of  art,  not  to  their  "formal" 
side.  And  on  the  material  side  there  are  no  barriers  between 
media — they  may  merge  by  insensible  gradations. 

Cassirer  is  quite  right  in  saying:  "Beethoven's  intuition  is  in 
the  realm  of  music.  Phidias'  intuition  is  in  that  of  sculpture, 
Milton's  in  epic  poetry,  and  Goethe's  in  lyric  poetry.  All  of  this 
concerns  not  merely  the  external  husk,  but  the  core  of  their 
creative  work."21  But  this  only  means  that  the  imagination  of 
an  artist  works  within  some  medium.  Perhaps  it  was  a  mere 
coincidence  that  originally  presented  this  medium  to  his  imagi- 
nation. Perhaps  he  has  to  change  and  develop  the  medium  in 
order  to  make  it  a  vehicle  for  what  he  wants  to  say.  Perhaps, 
having  had  an  initial  experience  of  various  media,  he  chooses 
the  one  which  for  some  reason  or  other  suits  him  best — a  deaf 
man,  for  instance,  is  not  likely  to  choose  music,  nor  a  colour- 
blind man  painting.  One  puts  a  false  interpretation  upon  these 
facts,  if  one  infers  that  the  types  of  intuition  enumerated  by 
Cassirer  are  categorial  and  a  priori  divisions. 

One  may  very  well,  it  may  be  added,  recognize  the  non- 
categorial  and  merely  empirical  status  of  the  arts  and  at  the 
same  time  dislike  the  romantic  confusions,  rooted  in  a  love  of 
suggestion  for  its  own  sake.  Irving  Babbitt  was  thoroughly 
right  in  The  New  Laokoon,  An  Essay  on  the  Confusion  of  the 
Arts  (1910).  These  romantics  want  to  put  us  in  a  state  of 
sensuous,  even  voluptuous  dreaming,  they  want  to  thrill  us 
with  strange  and  surprising  effects.  There  is  no  contradiction 
between  clear  insight  in  the  non-aesthetic  character  of  such 
endeavours  and  recognition  of  the  merely  empirical  status  of 
the  arts  and  genres. 

"ibid.,  131. 


FURTHER  PROBLEMS  OF  SYMBOLIC  FORMS    351 

A  similar  tendency  to  apriorize  merely  empirical  distinctions 
can  be  noticed  in  Cassirer's  philosophy  of  language.  When  he 
speaks  of  "the  form  of  a  language,"  it  is  clear  that  the  word 
"form"  does  not  merely  denote  the  nature  of  essence  of  lan- 
guage in  general  but  also  the  fundamental  and  enduring  lin- 
guistic habits  of  a  particular  people.  Cassirer  here  uses  the 
word  "form"  in  the  same  way  as  Humboldt  did  when  speaking 
of  the  innere  Sprachform  of  a  particular  language.  There  is  no 
objection  to  such  a  terminology,  unless  it  leads  to  confusion 
between  enduring  linguistic  habits  (or  even  among  these  only 
the  habits  denominated  grammatical)  and  linguistic  form  per 
se.  For  such  a  confusion  would  mean  that  "empirically"  distin- 
guished, historically  conditioned  habit-systems  are  apriorized 
into  eternal  subdivisions  of  speech  as  a  universal  form  of  ac- 
tivity. 

Suppose  we  distinguish  carefully  between  linguistic  and  ar- 
tistic "form,"  on  the  one  hand,  and  habits  and  traditions  on  the 
other.  Suppose  further  that  we  call  the  "merely  empirical" 
distinctions  made  among  the  latter:  Stilbegriffe.  Then  we  would 
have  adopted  a  term  introduced  by  Cassirer  in  Zur  Logik  der 
Kulturwissenschajteny  using  it  in  approximately  the  same  sense 
as  he  does.  In  order  to  write  the  history  of  language  and  of  art 
— thus  Cassirer  begins  his  exposition  of  what  he  means  by 
Stilbegriffe — we  need  a  great  variety  of  terms  describing  the 
structure  of  artistic  and  linguistic  phenomena.  Open  any  gram- 
mar or  any  history  of  art  or  literature,  and  you  will  be  able 
to  grab  them  with  both  hands.  Thus  Wolfflin  distinguishes  be- 
tween a  "picturesque"  and  a  "linear"  style,  and  Humboldt  in- 
troduces the  notion  of  "polysynthetic"  languages.  These  types 
of  concepts,  Cassirer  goes  on  to  say,  differ  both  from  those  of 
natural  science  and  from  the  concepts  of  value  (Wertbegriffe). 

So  far  no  objection  can  be  raised.  Certainly  history  and  the 
enquiry  into  general  terms  must  keep  pacej  a  theory  of  language 
and  a  theory  of  art  are  indispensable  in  writing  the  history 
of  these  activities.22  But  are  the  basic  concepts  in  these  theories — 

M  "On  the  one  hand  it  is  clear  that  the  creation  of  a  theory  of  language  is  not 
possible  without  constant  reference  to  the  results  achieved  in  the  history  of  language 
and  in  psychology  of  language.  Such  a  theory  can  not  be  erected  in  the  empty  space 
of  [mere]  abstraction  or  speculation.  But  it  is  equally  clear  that  empirical  research 
in  the  realm  of  linguistics  as  in  that  of  the  psychology  of  language  must  constantly 


352  FOLKE  LEANDER 

the  concepts  of  "language"  and  "art" — also  Stilbegriffe?  Cas- 
sirer  says  nothing  about  "art"  in  this  context;  but  "language" 
evidently  is  included  among  the  "concepts  of  style."23  He  says 
nothing  about  the  relation  of  "concepts  of  style"  to  "concepts 
of  value"  and  seems  to  have  altogether  forgotten  that  the  latter 
have  also  a  function  in  the  theories  of  art  and  language.  "Art" 
is  obviously  a  value  term,  since  a  work  of  art  is  the  better,  the 
more  it  is  art;  on  the  other  hand,  no  "picturesque"  or  "linear" 
work  of  art  is  the  better,  the  more  picturesque  or  linear  it  is. 
Similarly,  "polysynthetic"  is  no  value  term,  but  "speech"  is: 
only  in  so  far  as  a  person  manages  to  express  what  he  wants  to 
express — and  this  is  a  question  of  degrees — has  he  achieved 
articulate  speech. 

Thus  Wertbegriffe  are  seen  to  denote  the  "form"  or  eternal 
nature  of  art  and  language,  whereas  Stilbegriffe  denote  em- 
pirically demarcated  tendencies  and  habits.  But  no  such  sharp 
distinction  is  to  be  found  in  Cassirer's  book.  The  student  of  his 
thought  is  left  with  the  task  of  working  it  out  for  himself. 

Ill 

An  Analysis  of  the  Logic  of  History  and  the 
Logic  of  Philosophy 

As  we  have  seen,  "Logos"  in  its  highest,  purest  and  most 
intense  form  is  supposed  to  be  identical  with  mathematical 
science.  In  The  Philosophy  of  Symbolic  Forms  Cassirer  always 
means  mathematical  science,  when  speaking  of  Wissenschaft. 

presuppose  concepts  which  can  only  be  taken  from  the  linguistic  'theory  of  forms.' 
If  investigations  are  to  be  initiated  to  ascertain  in  which  order  the  various  classes 
of  words  occur  in  the  linguistic  development  of  the  child,  or  to  ascertain  in  which 
phase  the  child  moves  from  the  use  of  the  'single  word  sentence*  to  the  'paratacticaP 
sentence,  and  from  this  latter  to  the  'hypotacticaP  sentence,  it  must  be  clear  that  in 
such  procedure  [of  investigation]  the  meaning  of  quite  definite  basic  categories 
of  the  'theory  of  forms,'  of  grammar  and  of  syntax,  are  laid  down  as  basic.  Else- 
where also  it  is  shown  again  and  again  that  empirical  research  loses  itself  in 
'Schemfrobleme'  and  gets  entangled  in  insoluble  antinomies,  if  careful  conceptual 
reflection  concerning  what  precisely  language  'is*  does  not  come  to  the  aid  of  such 
research  and  accompanies  it  constantly  in  the  putting  of  its  questions."  Zur  Logik 
der  Kulturwissenschajten,  75. 
*Ibid.,  75f. 


FURTHER  PROBLEMS  OF  SYMBOLIC  FORMS    353 

History  and  philosophy  are  silently  allowed  to  drop  out  of  the 
picture. 

Modern  philosophers  since  Descartes  have  been  chiefly  in- 
terested in  the  thought-processes  of  mathematicians  and  scien- 
tists. They  have  until  recently  evinced  little  interest  in  those 
of  the  historians.  And  very  few  have  even  today  discovered 
that  their  own  philosophical  activities  might  be  as  interesting 
logically  as  those  of  scientists  and  mathematicians.  The  logic 
of  philosophical  thought  is  a  field  which  has  not  been  discovered 
at  all  by  the  majority  of  philosophers.  Yet  it  is  difficult  to  see 
why  general  statements  should  not  be  made  about  the  activity 
of  philosophizing. 

When  exalting  mathematical  science  to  the  highest  place  in 
our  knowledge-getting  life,  Cassirer  seems  to  have  forgotten 
the  claims  of  his  own  subject,  philosophy.  He  has  said  excellent 
things  on  the  activities  of  mathematicians  and  scientists,  and 
also  some  good  things  on  history.  On  the  activity  of  philosophiz- 
ing there  is  little  more  than  a  chapter  on  "Subjective  and 
Objective  Analysis"  in  The  Philosophy  of  Symbolic  Forms. 
And  this  chapter  does  not  take  us  very  far. 

A  brief  criticism  of  other  thinkers  may  be  helpful.  Dewey 
touches  upon  the  logic  of  philosophy,  or  more  specifically  the 
logic  of  logical  enquiry,  in  the  Introduction  to  his  Logic.2*  He 
believes  that  the  philosopher's  thought-processes  can  be  ac- 
counted for  by  a  pragmatic  logic  5  they  present  no  special  diffi- 
culties. Similarly,  logical  positivists,  when  occasionally  con- 
fronted with  the  problem,  affirm  that  their  own  philosophy  is 
a  hypothesis  of  the  same  sort  as  any  other  scientific  hypothesis. 
Their  own  philosophy,  in  other  words,  is  only  probable  and 
must  be  verified  by  experience.  But  anyone  who  says:  "Our 
philosophy  is  only  a  hypothesis,"  is  surely  talking  nonsense;  for 
in  this  statement  is  implicitly  contained  another  one:  "The 
criterion  of  verification  is  the  ultimate  court  of  appeal  deciding 
the  fate  of  each  and  every  philosophy."  An  absolute,  unhypo- 
thetical  statement  has  been  made.  To  put  it  in  other  words: 
anyone  who  asserts  that  "'philosophies  are  hypotheses"  thereby 
affirms  hypothesis-verification  as  the  ultimate  truth  about  our 

*  Logic:  The  Theory  of  Inquiry,  by  John  Dewey  (New  York,  1938). 


354  FOLKE  LEANDER 

knowledge-getting  life.  To  put  it  in  a  third  manner:  when  we 
are  supposed  to  be  choosing  between  various  systems  of  philo- 
sophical axioms  by  testing  their  applicability  to  experience,  we 
are  also  supposed  already  to  have  a  philosophical  system,  of 
which  the  idea  of  "applicability  to  experience"  forms  a  part. 
This  shows  that  the  logic  of  philosophy  does  present  special 
difficulties  and  does  not  fit  into  pragmatic  logic. 

What,  then,  is  the  logic  of  philosophical  thinking?  If  phi- 
losophy is  self-knowledge,  the  logic  of  philosophy  is  an  account 
of  what  happens  in  self-knowledge.  That  self-knowledge  does 
not  fit  into  pragmatic  logic  can  easily  be  shown.  It  is  often 
affirmed  that  all  a  priori  truth  is  analytic  and  all  empirical  state- 
ments merely  probable.  But  if  one  can  be  sure  of  an  analytic 
truth,  one  can  certainly  also  be  sure  of  the  existence  of  the 
thought-process  in  which  the  analytic  truth  is  being  sought;  and 
one  can  also  affirm  with  certainty  that  the  existential  thought- 
process  in  question  belongs  to  a  certain  kind  of  thought-processes, 
those  which  the  theory  calls  analytic.  Here  is  an  element  of 
self-knowledge  which  is  at  once  a  priori  and  empirical.  Further, 
no  verification  of  a  hypothesis  can  take  place,  unless  we  can 
know  with  certainty  that  we  are  verifying  a  hypothesis;  an 
infinite  regress  of  verifying  that  we  are  verifying  provides  no 
escape  from  nihilism — it  is  like  lifting  oneself  by  one's  boot- 
straps. Without  an  assertion  somewhere  there  can  be  no  proba- 
bility, only  a  mass  of  hypothetical  sentences;  even  an  infinite 
amount  of  "if-then"-sentences  does  not  provide  us  with  a 
single  probability.  Self-knowledge  that  we  are  verifying  is 
accordingly  indispensable.  Similarly,  the  philosophical  method 
of  analyzing  linguistic  statements  presupposes  the  absolute 
knowledge  (at  once  empirical  and  a  priori)  that  "this  is  a  lin- 
guistic statement" — and  this  is  a  piece  of  self-knowledge, 
knowledge  of  our  own  activity  of  speaking  and  of  reconstruct- 
ing other  people's  expressions. 

In  short,  knowledge  of  our  own  activities  and  attitudes — 
verifying  analytic  thinking,  expressing  oneself  (speaking),  re- 
constructing expressions  (listening,  reading),  imagining,  ob- 
serving, philosophizing,  etc., — must  in  a  sense  be  immediate 
and  direct,  for  otherwise  the  whole  structure  of  knowledge 


FURTHER  PROBLEMS  OF  SYMBOLIC  FORMS    355 

would  break  down.  Self-knowledge  is  the  basis  of  all  other 
knowledge.  Now  self-knowledge  is  in  one  respect  historical 
(knowledge  of  individual  processes)  and  in  another  respect 
philosophical  (knowledge  of  the  general  categories  of  activity, 
like  those  just  mentioned).  The  history  of  philosophy  is  the 
history  of  a  growing  insight  into  the  nature  of  our  own  ac- 
tivities. And  the  method  of  philosophy  has  been  a  sort  of 
direct  inspection  of  our  activities,  often  called  "reflection" 
upon  them. 

Now  what  has  just  been  advanced  as  a  criticism  of  prag- 
matism and  logical  positivism  indicates  the  way  I  believe  mod- 
ern philosophy  will  develop.25  And  it  also  indicates  a  realm 
which  Cassirer  has  left  unexplored.  The  logical  analysis  of  what 
philosophers  are  doing  and  how  they  do  it — the  logic  of  think- 
ing the  Idea,  as  Hegel  would  say — has  become  a  problem  to 
modern  neo-Hegelians  like  Emil  Lask,  Theodor  Litt,  Richard 
Kroner  and  Benedetto  Croce.26  But  Cassirer  remains  a  neo- 
Kantian  and  refuses  to  venture  into  these  problems.  Abstract 
mathematics  and  unreal  scientific  constructions  are  to  him  the 
true  nature  of  Logos.  We  go  beyond  him  by  identifying  Logos 
with  the  Idea  and  interpreting  philosophy  as  the  self-conscious- 
ness of  Logos. 

The  subject  may  also  be  approached  from  another  angle,  by 
a  detour  over  the  subject  of  "freedom  and  form."  This  was 
the  theme  of  a  volume  of  essays  which  Cassirer  published  dur- 
ing the  first  world  war:  Freiheit  und  Form  (Berlin,  1916). 
The  basic  idea  is  that  freely  developing  life  finds  its  own  law 
within  itself,  that  "form"  is  no  restriction  on  freedom,  unless 
it  be  merely  external,  pseudo-classical,  conventional,  based  upon 

*  Those  interested  in  a  fuller  development  of  this  criticism  may  read  my  article, 
"Analyse  des  Wirklichkeitsbegriffs,"  in  Theoria,  vol.  IX,  (1943). 

*E.  Lask:  Die  Logik  der  Philosofhie  und  die  Kategorienlefare,  Ges.  Schr.  II, 
Tubingen,  1923. 

Th.Litt:  Einleitung  in  die  Philosophic,  1933,  p.  1-33$  Kant  und  Herder ,  1930, 
ch.  3  j  Das  Allgemeine  im  Aufbau  der  geisteswissenschaftlichen  Erkenntnis,  Leipzig* 
1941  (a  brief  summary). 

R.  Kroner:  Von  Kant  bis  Hegel,  MI,  Tubingen,  1921-1924,  esp.  vol.  I,  pp. 
103$,  2895.  Croce  anticipated  the  Germans  by  several  years.  See  his  Logica  come 
scienza  del  concetto  furo,  Bar.  1908. 


356  FOLKE  LEANDER 

outer  pressure.  In  the  volume  mentioned  Cassirer  applied  this 
idea  to  the  fields  of  aesthetics,  ethics,  and  politics. 

As  Cassirer  himself  points  out,  the  problem  of  The  Philoso- 
phy of  Symbolic  Forms  is  also  at  bottom  a  question  of  freedom 
and  form.  It  might  seem  as  if  myth  and  language  cut  us  off  from 
reality,  covering  it  with  a  many-coloured  veil  of  "subjective"  il- 
lusions. The  free  expansion  of  individuality  might  seem  detri- 
mental to  our  knowledge  of  reality.  But  Cassirer  shows  that  this 
is  not  really  the  case.  Pre-scientific  symbolism  is  really  a  method 
of  exploring  reality,  having  its  own  type  of  objectivity,  its  own 
"form,"  in  which  the  expansion  of  individuality  issues. 

What,  according  to  Cassirer,  is  the  "objectivity"  or  truth 
of  myth?  His  answer  is  that  the  truth  of  myth  is  what  myth  does 
in  the  intuitive  elaboration  of  experience.  This  view  may  be 
elucidated  by  a  quotation  from  an  American  writer  on  art: 

Science  may  seem  dry  and  trivial  or  mechanical  to  those  who  have  no 
desire  to  understand  the  world  intellectually;  and  poetry  seem  tedious, 
futile,  or  trifling  to  those  who  care  nothing  for  imaginative  under- 
standing. Each  is  right  in  his  own  sphere,  and  wrong  only  in  supposing 
that  his  sphere  leaves  room  for  no  other.27 

The  artist,  he  adds,  is  primarily  the  discoverer,  just  as  the 
scientist  is;  the  scientist  invents  abstract  laws  which  may  be 
used  for  the  purposes  of  calculation  and  prediction;  the  artist 
explores  reality  in  a  different  way.  We  see  only  by  utilizing  the 
vision  of  others,  and  this  vision  is  embodied  in  the  traditions 
of  art.  Pre-scientific  symbolism,  according  to  Cassirer,  serves 
the  purpose  of  imaginative,  intuitive  understanding.  The  pas- 
sage just  quoted  corresponds  to  Cassirer's  thought  (and  to  the 
general  trend  of  contemporary  philosophy)  also  in  another 
respect:  in  its  tendency  to  leave  out  history  and  philosophy 
altogether.  Failure  to  analyze  the  last-mentioned  activities  is 
indeed  the  weakness  of  contemporary  thought.  When  this 
analysis  has  been  performed,  it  will  be  clear,  I  believe,  that 
individuality  plays  no  less  a  role  in  history  and  philosophy 
than  in  art,  myth,  and  language,  and  that  here  too  the  expansion 
of  individuality  is  compatible  with  "form"  and  objectivity. 

*  A.  Barnes:  The  Art  in  Painting,  37. 


FURTHER  PROBLEMS  OF  SYMBOLIC  FORMS    357 

Only  science  is  in  substance  impersonal.  Of  course,  it  takes  indi- 
viduals to  create  it,  but  individuality  is  no  part  of  the  results, 
which  are  strictly  impersonal.  "Freedom  and  form"  as  the 
Leitmotiv  of  Cassirer's  philosophy  cannot  come  into  its  own 
as  long  as  mathematical  science  is  taken  to  be  the  apex  of  our 
knowing  life.  As  a  system  of  practical  procedures  science  is  our 
way  of  controlling  the  forces  of  nature.  Yet,  if  nature  be  some- 
thing of  the  kind  pictured  by  Alfred  N.  Whitehead,  practical 
control  is  surely  something  very  different  from  real  understand- 
ing in  the  sense  of  Verstehen.  Maybe  natural  history  can  only 
be  dead  history  to  us,  a  mere  chronicle;  at  all  events  real  under- 
standing, where  it  is  possible,  i.  e.,  in  the  human  world,  touches 
the  rock-bottom  of  reality  in  a  way  that  cannot  be  rivalled  by 
the  merely  external  approach  of  science.  The  apex  of  knowledge 
cannot  therefore  be  sought  in  the  latter;  it  is  the  self-knowledge 
of  the  mind. 

If  there  is  any  truth  in  what  has  just  been  said,  the  problem 
of  "freedom  and  form"  is  the  fundamental  problem  of  logic 
and  epistemology.  The  compatibility  of  individuality  of  vision 
with  objective  truth  must  be  established  not  only  on  the  level 
of  artistic,  mythical,  and  linguistic  symbolism  but  also  on  the 
level  of  historical  and  philosophical  knowledge.  Every  philoso- 
pher has  his  own  truths  to  reveal,  and  these  truths  are  not 
mutually  incompatible;  only  by  being  intensely  himself,  by 
working  out  his  own  deepest  inspiration,  will  he  bring  a  unique 
contribution  to  the  progress  of  thought.  Even  if  Cassirer  has 
not  worked  out  the  theory  of  freedom  and  form  in  philosophi- 
cal progress,  he  has,  by  his  whole  work,  given  us  a  brilliant 
illustration  of  it. 

FOLKE  LEANDER 

HOGS  KOLA 
GOTEBORC,  SWEDEN 


10 

M.  F.  Ashley  Montagu 
CASSIRER  ON  MYTHOLOGICAL  THINKING 


IO 

CASSIRER  ON  MYTHOLOGICAL  THINKING 

IN  SUBSTANZBEGRIFF  UND  FUNKTIONSBE- 
GRIFF  (1910)  we  learn  that  the  study  arose  out  of 
the  attempt  to  comprehend  the  fundamental  conceptions  of 
mathematics  from  the  point  of  view  of  logic.  Cassirer  found 
that  it  became  necessary  to  analyze  and  trace  back  the  funda- 
mental presuppositions  of  the  nature  of  a  concept  itself.  This  led 
to  a  renewed  analysis  of  the  principles  of  concepts  in  general. 

In  the  course  of  his  analysis  of  the  special  sciences  it  became 
evident  that  the  systematic  structure  of  the  exact  sciences 
assumes  different  forms  according  to  the  different  logical  per- 
spectives in  which  they  are  regarded.  Hence  the  necessity  of 
the  analysis  of  the  forms  of  conceptual  construction  and  of  the 
general  function  of  concepts  5  for  it  is  obvious  that  the  con- 
ception which  is  formed  of  the  fundamental  nature  of  the 
concept  is  directly  significant  in  judging  the  questions  of  fact  in 
any  criticism  of  knowledge  or  metaphysics. 

From  such  considerations  with  respect  to  the  processes  of 
knowing,  and  the  conceptual  formalization  of  that  knowing 
as  related  to  the  pure  sciences,  Cassirer  was  led  to  a  consideration 
of  the  more  fundamental  problem  of  the  primitive  origins  of 
these  processes  and  their  development.  The  first  fruits  of  his 
studies  in  this  field  he  published  in  1923,  as  the  first  instalment 
of  a  large  work  entitled  Philosofhie  der  symboUschen  Formen 
(Bruno  Cassirer  Verlag,  Berlin)  j  this  first  volume  was  devoted 
to  "Die  Syrache"  in  which  the  nature  and  function  of  language 
was  considered.  A  second  volume  devoted  to  "Das  mythische 
Denizen" — which  is  discussed  in  the  present  chapter — was  pub- 
lished in  19255  and  the  third  and  last  volume,  entitled  "Pha- 
nomenologie  der  Erkenntnis"  made  its  appearance  in  1929. 


362  M.  F.  ASHLEY  MONTAGU 

Of  these  volumes  I  think  it  is  no  exaggeration  to  say  that  they 
constitute  perhaps  the  most  important  and  certainly  the  most 
brilliant  work  in  this  field  which  has  yet  been  published. 

Before  entering  upon  a  presentation  of  Cassirer's  treatment 
of  the  nature  of  mythological  thinking  it  is  necessary  to  present 
something  of  his  views  with  respect  to  the  nature  of  language  as 
propaedeutic  to  the  former. 

Cassirer  insists  on  the  fact  that  in  consciousness,  whether 
theoretical,  artistic,  or  linguistic,  we  see  a  kind  of  mirror,  the 
image  falling  upon  which  reflects  not  only  the  nature  of  the 
object  existing  externally  but  also  the  nature  of  consciousness  it- 
self. All  forms  brought  into  being  by  the  mind  are  due  to  a 
creative  force,  to  a  spontaneous  act  in  the  Kantian  sense,  thanks 
to  which  that  which  is  realized  is  something  quite  other  than  a 
simple  reception  or  registration  of  facts  exterior  or  foreign  to 
the  mind.  We  are  now  dealing  not  only  with  an  entering  into 
the  possession  of  facts,  but  with  the  lending  to  them  of  a 
certain  character,  with  an  integration  of  them  in  a  determinate 
physical  order.  Thus,  the  act  of  consciousness  which  gives  birth 
to  one  or  the  other  of  these  forms,  to  science,  to  art,  and  to 
language,  does  not  simply  discover  and  reproduce  an  ensemble 
of  pre-existent  objects.  This  act,  the  processes  which  give  birth  to 
it,  lead  rather  to  this  objective  universe,  and  contribute  towards 
constituting  its  being  and  structure.  The  essential  function  of 
language  is  not  arbitrarily  to  assign  designations  to  objects  al- 
ready formed  and  achieved  j  language  is  rather  a  means  indis- 
pensable to  that  formation,  even  of  objects.  Similarly,  in  the 
plastic  arts,  the  creative  act  consists  in  the  construction  of  space, 
in  conquering  it,  in  opening  a  path  of  access  to  it,  which  each 
of  these  arts  makes  according  to  the  manner  that  is  specific 
to  it.  Similarly,  in  respect  of  language  it  is  necessary  to  return 
to  the  theory  of  Wilhelm  von  Humboldt  according  to  which 
the  diversity  of  languages  expresses  the  diversity  of  aspects  from 
which  the  world  is  seen  and  conceived  by  the  different  linguistic 
groups,  and  which  consequently  contribute  to  the  formation  of 
the  different  representations  of  the  world.  But  one  cannot  ob- 
serve the  intimate  operations  of  the  mind  which  are  at  work  in 
the  formation  of  language.  Psychology,  even  after  having 


MYTHOLOGICAL  THINKING  363 

abandoned  the  concepts  of  apperception  and  of  association — con- 
cepts which  during  the  nineteenth  century  stood  in  the  way  of 
the  realization  of  Humboldt's  ideas — -does  not  provide  a 
method  which  permits  direct  access  to  the  specific  process  of 
the  mind  which  ends  by  leading  to  the  production  of  the  ver- 
bal. What  experimentation  and  introspection  renders  percepti- 
ble are  the  facts  impregnated  by  language  and  by  them,  not  the 
manner  of  formation,  but  the  achieved  state. 

If  one  wishes  to  go  back  to  the  origin  of  language  and,  in- 
stead of  being  content  with  the  linguistic  facts  and  findings,  one 
seeks  to  discover  the  creative  principle,  one  can  be  satisfied  only 
with  those  regions  in  which  the  formation  of  the  language  is 
known,  in  all  its  particulars,  and  to  attempt  by  an  analysis  of 
the  structure  of  the  languages  of  these  regions,  by  a  regressive 
method,  to  arrive  at  the  genetic  factors  of  language. 

Cassirer's  study  deals  with  the  languages  of  a  number  of 
regions  of  this  kind,  inquiring  into  their  mode  of  arriving  at 
an  objective  representation  of  the  world.  According  to  Cassirer 
the  lower  animals  are  incapable  of  such  objective  representa- 
tions; they  find  themselves  enclosed  in  an  environment,  in 
which  they  live,  move,  and  have  their  being,  but  which  they  are 
unable  to  oppose,  and  which  they  are  incapable  of  viewing 
objectively,  since  they  cannot  transcend  it,  consider  or  conceive 
it.  The  impressions  they  receive  do  not  pass  beyond  the  level  of 
urges  to  action,  and  between  these  they  fail  to  develop  those 
specific  relations  which  result  in  a  true  notion  of  that  objectivity 
which  is  essentially  defined  by  the  constancy  and  identity  of  the 
object.  This  transition  from  a  world  of  action  and  effectiveness 
to  the  world  of  objective  representation  only  begins  to  manifest 
itself,  in  mankind,  at  a  stage  which  coincides  with  a  certain 
phase  in  the  development  of  language;  viz.,  at  that  stage  which 
the  child  exhibits  when  it  grows  to  understand  that  a  whole 
thing  corresponds  to  a  particular  value  or  denomination,  and 
at  which  it  is  constantly  demanding  of  those  about  it  the  names 
of  things.  But  it  does  not  occur  to  the  child  to  attach  these 
designations  to  the  representation  of  things  already  stabilized 
and  consolidated.  The  child's  questions  bear  rather  more  on  the 
things  themselves.  For  in  the  eyes  of  the  child,  as  in  the  eyes 


364  M.  F.  ASHLEY  MONTAGU 

of  primitive  peoples,  the  name  is  not  an  extrinsic  denomination 
of  the  thing  which  one  arbitrarily  attaches  to  it,  but  it  is  rather 
an  essential  quality  of  the  object  of  which  it  forms  an  integral 
part.  The  principal  value  of  this  denominative  phase  is  that  it 
tends  to  stabilize  and  to  consolidate  the  objective  representation 
of  things  and  permits  the  child  to  conquer  the  objective  world 
in  which  it  is  henceforth  to  live.  For  this  task  he  needs  some 
name.  If,  for  a  multiplicity  of  impressions  one  sets  apart  the 
same  name,  these  different  impressions  will  no  longer  remain 
strange  to  one  another  5  in  this  way  they  will  come  to  represent 
simply  aspects  of  the  modes  of  appearance  of  the  same  thing. 
The  loss  of  this  conceptual  and  symbolic  function  of  the  word 
leads  to  such  effects  as  one  may  observe  in  those  suffering  from 
aphasia.  That  which  language  renders  possible  on  the  plane  of 
objects,  viz.,  a  separation  or  distinction  between  subjects  and 
thingSy  it  permits  equally  in  the  domain  of  sentiment  and  voli- 
tion. In  this  domain  also  language  is  more  than  a  simple  means 
of  expression  and  of  communication}  this  it  is  only  at  the  begin- 
ning of  human  life,  when  the  infant  gives  expression  without 
any  reserve  to  the  states  of  pleasure  and  of  pain  which  it  experi- 
ences y  and  it  is  language  which  provides  the  infant  with  a 
means  of  getting  into  contact  with  the  outside  world.  Language 
prolongs  these  affective  states,  but  it  does  not  in  any  way  alter 
them.  Things,  however,  present  another  aspect  as  soon  as  the 
child  acquires  representational  language.  Henceforth,  his  vocal 
expressions  will  no  longer  be  simple  exclamations,  nor  of  pure 
expansiveness  apart  from  these  emotional  states.  That  which  the 
child  expresses  is  now  informed  by  the  fact  that  his  expressions 
have  taken  the  form  of  intelligible  words,  the  child  hears  and 
understands  what  he  himself  says.  He  thus  becomes  capable  of 
knowing  his  own  states  in  a  representative  and  objective  man- 
ner, of  apperceiving  and  looking  at  them  as  he  does  at  external 
things.  He  thus  becomes  capable  of  reflecting  upon  his  own 
affective  life,  and  of  adopting  in  relation  to  that  life  an  attitude 
of  contemplation.  In  this  way  his  affective  energies  gradually 
lose  that  power  of  brutal  constraint  which  it  exercises,  during 
early  infancy,  upon  the  "self."  The  fact  that  emotion  attains 
to  a  consciousness  of  itself,  renders  man  to  some  extent  free  of 


MYTHOLOGICAL  THINKING  365 

it.  To  the  pure  emotion  are  henceforth  opposed  those  intellec- 
tual forces  which  support  representational  language.  Emotion 
will  now  be  held  in  constraint  by  these  forces,  it  will  no  longer 
obtain  an  immediate  and  direct  expression,  but  will  have  to 
justify  itself  before  language,  which  now  assumes  the  position 
of  an  instrument  of  the  mind.  In  this  connection  we  may  recall 
the  Greek  idea  that  man  must  not  abandon  his  passions,  that 
these  rather  must  be  submitted  to  the  judgment  of  the  Logos, 
to  that  reason  which  is  incorporated  in  language. 

Thanks  to  its  regulative  powers,  language  transforms  senti- 
ments .and  volitions,  and  organizes  them  into  a  conscious  will, 
and  thus  contributes  to  the  constitution  of  the  moral  self.  There 
is  still  another  domain  into  which  one  can  gain  entry  only 
through  the  medium  of  language,  it  is  the  social  world.  Up  to  a 
certain  point  in  the  moral  evolution  of  humanity,  all  moral  and 
intellectual  community  is  bound  to  the  linguistic  community, 
in  much  the  same  way  as  men  speaking  a  foreign  language  are 
excluded  from  the  protection  and  advantages  which  are  alone 
enjoyed  by  members  of  the  community  considered  as  equals. 
And  in  the  development  of  the  individual,  language  constitutes 
for  the  child,  who  is  beginning  to  learn,  a  more  important  and 
a  more  direct  experience  than  that  of  the  social  and  normative 
bond.  But  when  for  his  characteristic  infantile  state  he  com- 
mences to  substitute  representational  language,  and  experiences 
the  need  of  being  understood  by  his  environment,  he  discovers 
the  necessity  of  adapting  his  own  efforts  without  reservation  to 
the  customs  characteristic  of  the  community  to  which  he  belongs. 
Without  losing  anything  of  his  own  individuality,  he  must 
adapt  himself  to  those  among  whom  he  is  destined  to  live.  It 
is  thus  through  the  medium  of  a  particular  language  that  the 
child  becomes  aware  of  the  bond  which  ties  it  to  a  particular 
community.  This  social  bond  becomes  closer  and  more  spiritual- 
ized during  the  course  of  its  development.  When  the  child 
commences  to  pose  the  questions — What  is  it?  and  Why? — not 
only  is  he  going  to  penetrate  into  the  world  of  knowledge,  but 
also  into  a  conquest  of  that  world  and  a  collective  possession 
of  it.  Not  only  does  the  tendency  to  possess  a  thing  begin  to 
give  way  before  the  desire  to  acquire  knowledge,  but  what  is 


366  M.  F.  ASHLEY  MONTAGU 

still  more  important,  the  relations  which  hold  him  to  his  en- 
vironment are  going  to  be  reorganized.  The  desire  for  physical 
assistance  begins  to  transform  itself  into  a  desire  for  intellectual 
assistance}  the  contact  of  the  child  with  the  members  of  its 
environment  is  going  to  become  a  spiritual  contact.  Little  by 
little,  the  constraint,  the  commands  and  prohibitions,  the 
obediences  and  resistances,  which  up  to  now  have  characterized 
the  relations  between  the  child  and  the  adult  gives  way  to  that 
reciprocity  which  exists  between  the  one  who  asks  and  waits  for 
a  reply,  and  the  one  who  takes  an  interest  in  the  question 
asked  and  replies.  Thus  arise  the  bases  of  spiritual  liberty  and 
of  that  free  collaboration  which  is  the  characteristic  mark  of 
society  in  so  far  as  it  is  human. 

Finally,  Cassirer  assigns  a  capital  importance  to  language 
in  the  construction  of  the  world  of  pure  imagination,  above  all 
to  that  state  of  conscious  development  wherein  the  decisive 
distinction  between  the  real  and  the  imagined  is  not  made.  The 
question  that  has  so  much  occupied  psychologists,  whether  the 
play  of  the  child  represents  for  it  a  veritable  reality  or  merely 
a  conscious  occupation  with  fictions,  this  question,  asserts  Cas- 
sirer, is  malposed,  since  the  play  of  the  child,  like  the  Myth, 
belongs  to  a  phase  of  consciousness  which  does  not  yet  under- 
stand the  distinction  between  that  which  is  real  and  that  which 
merely  is  simply  imagined.  In  the  eyes  of  the  child  the  world 
is  not  composed  of  pure  objects,  of  real  forms,  it  is,  on  the 
contrary,  peopled  by  beings  who  are  his  equals;  and  the  charac- 
ter of  the  living  and  the  animate  is  not  limited  for  him,  to  that 
which  is  specifically  human.  The  world,  for  him,  has  the  form 
of  Thou  and  not  of  That.  This  anthropomorphism  of  the  child 
arises  out  of  the  fact  that  the  child  speaks  to  the  things  which 
surround  him,  and  the  things  speak  to  him.  It  is  no  accident 
that  there  is  no  substitute  for  dumb  playj  when  playing  the 
child  does  not  cease  to  speak  of  and  to  the  things  with  which 
he  is  playing.  It  is  not  that  this  activity  is  an  accessory  com- 
mentary of  play,  but  rather  it  is  an  indispensable  element  of  it. 
The  child  views  every  object,  all  beings,  as  an  interlocutor  of 
whom  he  asks  questions  and  who  reply  to  him.  His  relation  to 
the  world  is  above  all  else  a  verbal  relation,  and  Cassirer  asserts 


MYTHOLOGICAL  THINKING  367 

that  the  child  does  not  speak  to  things  because  he  regards  them 
as  animate y  but  on  the  contrary  y  he  regards  them  as  animate  be- 
cause he  speaks  with  them.  It  is  much  later  that  the  distinction  is 
made  between  that  which  is  pure  thing  and  that  which  is  ani- 
mate and  living.  The  most  developed  of  languages  still  retain 
traces  of  this  original  state.  The  lack  of  such  distinctions  is 
strikingly  evident  when  we  study  the  languages,  the  mental 
instruments,  of  the  simpler  peoples,  a  study  which  is  obviously 
necessary  for  any  true  understanding  of  mythological  thinking. 

Cassirer's  approach  to  mythology  is  that  of  the  neo-Kantian 
phenomenologist;  he  is  not  interested  in  mythology  as  such, 
but  in  the  processes  of  consciousness  which  lead  to  the  creation 
of  myths.  It  will  be  recalled  that  he  was  originally  concerned 
with  inquiring  into  the  bases  of  empirical  knowledge,  but  since 
a  knowledge  of  a  world  of  empirical  things  or  properties  was 
preceded  by  a  world  characterized  by  mythical  powers  and 
forces,  and  since  early  philosophy  drew  its  spiritual  powers 
from  and  created  its  perspective  upon  the  bases  of  these  mythical 
factors,  a  consideration  of  them  is  clearly  of  importance.  The 
relation  between  myth  and  philosophy  is  a  close  one;  for  if  the 
myth  is  taken  to  be  an  indirect  expression  of  reality,  it  can  be 
understood  only  as  an  attempt  to  point  the  way,  it  is  a  prepara- 
tion for  philosophy.  The  form  and  content  of  myth  impede  the 
realization  of  a  rational  content  of  knowledge,  which  reflection 
alone  reveals,  and  of  which  it  discovers  the  kernel.  An  illustra- 
tion of  this  effect  of  myth  upon  knowledge  may  be  seen  in  the 
attempts  of  the  sophists  of  the  Fifth  Century  to  work  from 
myth  to  empirical  knowledge,  in  their  newly  founded  scientific 
wisdom.  Myth  was  by  them  understood  and  explained,  and 
translated  into  the  language  of  popular  philosophy,  as  an  all 
embracing  speculative  science  of  nature  or  of  ethical  truth. 

It  is  no  accident,  remarks  Cassirer,  that  just  that  Greek 
thinker  in  whom  the  characteristic  power  of  creating  the  mythi- 
cal was  so  outstanding  should  reject  the  whole  world  of  mythi- 
cal images,  namely,  Plato.  For  it  was  Plato  who  was  opposed  to 
the  attempts  at  myth-analysis  in  the  manner  of  the  Sophists 
and  rhetoricians;  for  him  these  attempts  represented  a  play 
of  wit  in  a  difficult,  though  not  very  refined,  subject  (Phaedrus* 


368  M.  F.  ASHLEY  MONTAGU 

229).  Plato  failed  to  see  the  significance  of  the  mythical  world, 
seeing  it  only  as  something  opposed  to  pure  knowledge.  The 
myth  must  be  separated  from  science,  and  appearance  be  dis- 
tinguished from  reality.  The  myth  however  transcends  all  ma- 
terial meaning}  and  here  it  occupies  a  definite  place  and  plays 
a  necessary  part  for  our  understanding  of  the  world,  and  accord- 
ing to  the  philosophy  of  the  Platonic  school  it  can  work  as  a  true 
creative  and  formative  motive.  The  profounder  view  which 
has  conquered  here  has,  in  the  continuity  of  Greek  thought,  not 
always  been  carried  through  nor  had  quite  the  same  meaning. 
The  Stoics  as  well  as  the  neo-Platonists  returned  to  the  Platonic 
view — as  did  the  Middle  Ages  and  the  Renaissance. 

In  the  newer  philosophy  the  myth  becomes  the  problem  of 
philosophy  when  it  is  recognized  that  there  exists  a  primordial 
directive  of  the  spirit,  an  intrinsic  way  of  forming  knowledge. 
The  spirit  (Geist)  forges  the  conditions  necessary  to  itself.  In 
this  connection  Giambattista  Vico  may  be  regarded  as  the 
founder  of  the  new  philosophy  of  language  and  of  mythology. 
The  real  and  true  knowledge  of  the  unitary  idea  of  the  spirit  is 
shown  in  the  triad  of  Language,  Art,  and  Myth. 

The  critical  problem  of  the  origin  of  the  aesthetic  and  ethical 
judgment,  which  Kant  inquired  into,  was  transferred  by  Schel- 
ling  to  the  field  of  myth.  For  Kant  the  problem  does  not  ask  for 
psychological  origins  or  beginnings — but  for  pure  existence  and 
content.  Myth  does  not  make  its  appearance,  like  morality  or 
art,  as  a  self-contained  world  in  itself,  which  may  be  measured 
by  objective  values  and  reality  measurements,  but  it  must  be 
understood  through  its  own  immanent  laws  of  structure  and  of 
being.  Every  attempt  to  make  this  world  understandable  by 
simple  direct  means  only  reveals  the  reflection  of  something 
else. 

In  the  empirical  comparisons  of  myths  a  distinct  trend  was 
noticeable  to  measure  not  only  the  range  of  mythical  thinking 
but  also  to  describe  the  unitary  forms  of  consciousness  and  its 
characteristics.  Just  as  in  physics  the  concept  of  the  unit  of  the 
physical  world  led  to  a  deepening  of  its  principles,  so  in  folklore 
the  problem  of  a  general  mythology  instead  of  special  research 
gained  for  it  a  new  lease  on  life.  Out  of  the  conflicting  schools 


MYTHOLOGICAL  THINKING  369 

there  appeared  no  other  way  than  to  think  in  terms  of  a 
single  source  of  myth  and  of  a  distinct  form  of  orientation. 
From  this  way  of  treating  myth  arose  the  conception  of  a  funda- 
mental mythical  view  of  the  world.  Fundamental  and  character- 
istic motives  were  found  for  the  whole  world,  even  where  space 
and  time  relations  could  not  be  demonstrated.  As  soon  as  the 
attempt  was  made  to  separate  these  motives,  to  distinguish  be- 
tween them,  and  to  discover  which  were  the  truly  primitive 
ones,  conflicting  views  were  again  brought  to  the  fore  more 
sharply  than  ever.  It  was  the  task  of  folklore  in  association  with 
folk  psychology  to  determine  the  order  of  the  appearances  and 
to  uncover  the  general  laws  and  principles  with  respect  to  the 
formation  of  myths.  But  the  unity  of  these  principles  disap- 
peared even  before  one  had  assured  oneself  of  the  existence  of 
the  necessary  fullness  and  variety  of  myths. 

Besides  the  mythology  of  nature,  there  is  the  mythology 
of  the  soul.  In  the  first  there  are  involved  a  large  variety  of 
myths  which  have  a  definite  object  of  nature  for  their  kernel. 
One  always  asked  of  each  single  myth  whether  it  bore  a  distinct 
relation  to  some  natural  thing  or  event.  One  had  to  approach 
the  matter  in  this  way  because  only  in  this  way  could  phantasy 
be  distinguished,  and  a  strictly  objective  position  arrived  at. 
But  the  arbitrary  power  of  building  hypotheses,  seen  in  a  strictly 
objective  way,  showed  that  it  was  nearly  as  great  as  the  creation 
of  phantasy.  The  older  form  of  the  storm  and  thunder  my- 
thology was  the  opposite  of  the  astral  mythology  which  itelf, 
again,  took  different  forms,  sun  mythology,  lunar  mythology, 
and  stellar  mythology. 

Another  approach  to  the  ultimate  unity  of  myth  creation 
attempted  to  see  it  not  as  a  natural  but  more  as  a  spiritual  unity, 
expressing  this  unity  not  in  the  field  of  the  object  but  as  in  the 
historical  field  of  culture.  Were  it  possible  to  find  such  a  field 
of  culture  for  the  general  origin  of  the  great  fundamental 
mythical  motives  and  themes,  as  a  center  from  which  they 
eventually  spread  over  the  whole  world,  it  would  be  a  simple 
matter  to  explain  the  inner  relation  and  systematic  consequences 
of  these  themes  and  motives.  If  any  such  relation  in  a  known 
form  is  obscure,  it  must  appear  at  once,  if  one  but  refers  to  the 


370  M.  F.  ASHLEY  MONTAGU 

best  historical  source  for  it.  When  the  older  theorists,  e.g., 
Benfey,  looked  to  India  for  the  most  important  motives,  there 
seemed  to  be  certain  striking  evidences  for  the  historical  unity 
and  association  of  myth  forming;  this  became  even  more  so 
when  Babylonian  culture  became  better  known.  With  the  find- 
ing of  this  homeland  of  culture  the  answer  was  also  found  to  the 
question  as  to  the  home  of  myth  and  its  unitary  structure. 
The  answer  to  Pan-Babylonianism  is  that  myth  could  never 
have  developed  a  consistent  world  viewpoint  if  it  had  been 
constituted  out  of  a  primitive  magic,  idea,  dream,  emotion  or 
superstition.  The  path  to  such  a  Weltanschauung  was  much 
more  likely  to  be  there  where  there  was  in  existence  a  distinct 
proof  of  a  conception  of  the  world  as  an  ordered  whole — a  con- 
dition which  was  fulfilled  in  the  beginning  of  Babylonian 
astronomy  and  cosmogony.  From  this  spiritual  and  historical 
viewpoint  the  possibility  is  opened  up  that  myth  is  not  only  a 
form  of  pure  phantasy  but  is  in  itself  a  finished  and  compre- 
hensive system.  What,  remarks  Cassirer,  is  so  interesting  about 
this  theory  in  the  methodological  sense  is  that  not  only  does 
it  attempt  the  empirical  proof  of  the  real  historical  origin  of 
myth,  but  it  also  attempts  to  give  a  sort  of  a  priori  substantia- 
tion to  the  proper  direction  and  goal  of  mythological  research. 
That  all  myths  have  an  astral  origin  and  should  in  the  end 
prove  to  be  calendric,  is  stated  by  the  students  of  the  Pan- 
Babylonian  school  to  be  the  basic  principle  of  the  method.  It  is 
a  sort  of  Ariadne's  thread,  which  is  alone  able  to  lead  through 
the  labyrinth  of  mythology.  By  this  means  it  was  not  very 
difficult  to  fill  in  the  various  lacunae  which  the  empiric  tradi- 
tion had  somehow  failed  to  make  good, — but  this  very  means 
showed  ever  more  clearly  that  the  fundamental  problem  of  the 
unit  of  the  mythological  consciousness  could  not  really  be 
explained  in  the  manner  of  the  historical  objective  empirical 
school. 

It  becomes  more  and  more  certain  that  the  simple  statement 
of  unity  of  the  fundamental  mythical  ideas  cannot  really  give 
any  insight  into  the  structure  of  the  forms  of  mythical  phantasy 
and  of  mythical  thinking.  To  define  the  structure  of  this  form, 
when  one  does  not  desert  the  basis  of  pure  descriptive  con- 


MYTHOLOGICAL  THINKING  371 

siderations,  requires  no  more  elaborate  conception  than  Bastian's 
concept  of  "Volkergedanken"  Bastian  maintained  that  the  varie- 
ties of  the  objective  approach  do  not  simply  consider  the  con- 
tent and  objects  of  mythology,  but  start  off  from  the  question 
as  to  the  function  of  myth.  The  fundamental  principle  of  this 
function  should  remain  to  be  proved;  in  this  way  various 
resemblances  are  discovered  and  relations  demonstrated.  From 
the  beginning  the  sought-for  unity  is  both  from  the  inside 
and  the  outside  transferred  from  the  phenomena  of  reality  to 
those  of  the  spirit.  But  this  idealism,  as  long  as  it  is  received 
psychologically  and  determined  through  the  categories  of  psy- 
chology, is  not  characterized  by  a  single  meaning.  When  we 
speak  of  mythology  as  the  collective  expression  of  mankind, 
this  unity  must  finally  be  explained  out  of  the  unity  of  the 
human  soul  and  out  of  the  homogeneity  of  its  behaviour.  But 
the  unity  of  the  soul  expresses  itself  in  a  great  variety  of 
potencies  and  forms.  As  soon  as  the  question  is  asked  which 
of  these  potencies  play  the  respective  roles  in  the  building  up 
of  the  mythical  world,  there  immediately  arise  conflicting  and 
contradictory  controversial  explanations.  Is  the  myth  ulti- 
mately derived  from  the  play  of  subjective  phantasy,  or  does 
it  in  some  cases  rest  upon  a  real  view  of  things,  upon  which 
it  is  based?  Is  it  a  primitive  form  of  knowledge  (Erkenntnls} 
and  in  this  connection  is  it  a  form  of  intellection,  or  does  it  be- 
long rather  to  the  sphere  of  affection  and  conation?  To  this 
question  scientific  myth-analysis  has  returned  different  an- 
swers. Just  as  formerly  the  theories  differed  with  respect  to 
the  objects  which  were  considered  necessary  to  the  creation 
of  myths,  in  the  same  way  they  now  differed  in  respect  of  the 
fundamental  psychic  processes  to  which  these  are  considered  to 
lead  back.  The  conception  of  a  pure  intellectual  mythology 
made  its  reappearance,  the  idea  that  the  essence  of  the  myth 
was  to  be  sought  in  the  intellectual  analysis  of  experience. 

In  opposition  to  Schelling's  demand  for  a  tautegorical  (ex- 
pressing the  same  thing  in  different  words,  opposed  to  allegori- 
cal) analysis  of  myth  an  allegorical  explanation  was  sought  for 
(See  Fritz  Langer,  Intellektualmythologle^  Leipzig,  1916). 

In  all  this  is  evident  the  danger  to  which  the  myth  is  ex- 


372  M.  F.  ASHLEY  MONTAGU 

posed,  the  danger  of  becoming  lost  in  the  depths  of  a  particular 
theory.  In  all  these  theories  the  sought-for  unity  is  transferred 
in  error  to  the  particular  elements  instead  of  being  looked  for 
in  that  spiritual  whole,  the  symbolic  world  of  meaning,  out 
of  which  these  elements  are  created.  We  must,  on  the  other 
hand,  says  Cassirer,  look  for  the  fundamental  laws  of  the 
spirit  to  which  the  myth  goes  back.  Just  as  in  the  process  of 
arriving  at  knowledge  The  Rhapsody  of  Perceptions  (Rha-p- 
sodie  der  W ahrnehmwngeri)  is,  by  means  of  certain  laws  and 
forms  of  thinking,  transmuted  into  knowledge,  so  we  can  and 
must  ask  for  the  creation  of  that  form  unity,  the  unending  and 
manifold  world  of  the  myth,  which  is  not  a  conglomerate  of 
arbitrary  ideas  and  meaningless  notions,  a  characteristic  spiritual 
genitor.  We  must  look  at  the  myth  from  a  genetic-causal,  teleo- 
logical  standpoint  j  in  this  way  we  shall  find  that  what  is  pre- 
sented to  us  is  something  which  as  a  complete  form  possesses  a 
self-sufficient  being  and  an  autochthonous  sense. 

The  myth  represents  in  itself  the  first  attempts  at  a  knowl- 
edge of  the  world,  and  since  it  furthermore  possibly  represents 
the  earliest  form  of  aesthetic  phantasy,  we  see  in  it  that  particu- 
lar unity  of  the  spirit  of  which  all  separate  forms  are  but  a 
single  manifestation.  We  see  too,  here,  that  instead  of  an 
original  unity  in  which  the  opposites  lose  themselves,  and  seem 
to  combine  with  one  another,  that  the  critical-transcendental 
idea-unit  seeks  the  clear  definition  and  delimitation  of  the 
separate  forms  in  order  to  preserve  them.  The  principle  of  this 
separation  becomes  clear  when  one  compares  here  the  problem 
of  meaning  with  that  of  characterization — that  is,  when  one 
reflects  upon  the  way  in  which  the  various  spiritual  forms  of 
expression,  such  as  "Object71  with  "Idea  or  Image,"  and  "Con- 
tent" with  "Sign,"  are  related  to  one  another. 

In  this  we  see  the  fundamental  element  of  the  parallelism, 
namely,  the  creative  power  of  the  "sign"  in  myth  as  in  lan- 
guage, and  in  art,  as  well  as  in  the  process  of  forming  a 
theoretical  idea  in  a  word,  and  in  relation  to  the  world.  What 
Humboldt  said  of  language,  that  man  places  it  between  him- 
self and. the  internal  and  external  world  that  is  acting  upon 
him,  that  he  surrounds  himself  with  a  world  of  sounds  with 


MYTHOLOGICAL  THINKING  373 

which  to  take  up  and  to  work  up  the  world  of  objects,  holds 
true  also  for  the  myth  and  for  the  aesthetic  fancy.  They  are 
not  so  much  reactions  to  impressions,  which  are  exercised  from 
the  outside  upon  the  spirit,  but  they  are  much  more  real 
spiritual  activities.  At  the  outset,  in  the  definite  sense  of  the 
primitive  expression  of  the  myth  it  is  clear  that  we  do  not 
have  to  deal  with  a  mere  reflection  or  mirage  of  Reality  (Seiri), 
but  with  a  characteristic  treatment  and  presentation  of  it.  Also 
here  one  can  observe  how  in  the  beginning  the  tension  between 
"Subject"  and  "Object,"  "Internal"  and  "External,"  grad- 
ually diminishes,  a  richer  and  multiform  new  middle  state 
stepping  in  between  both  worlds.  To  the  material  world  which 
it  embraces  and  governs  the  spirit  opposes  its  own  independent 
world  of  images — the  power  of  Impression  gradually  becomes 
more  distinct  and  more  conscious  than  the  active  power  of  Ex- 
pression. But  this  creation  does  not  yet  in  itself  possess  the 
character  of  an  act  of  free  will,  but  still  bears  the  character 
of  a  natural  necessity,  the  character  of  a  certain  psychic  "mecha- 
nism." Since  at  this  level  there  does  not  yet  exist  an  inde- 
pendent and  self-conscious  free  living  "I,"  but  because  we  here 
stand  upon  the  threshold  of  the  spiritual  processes  which  are 
bound  to  react  against  each  other,  the  "I"  and  the  "World," 
the  new  world  of  the  "Sign"  must  appear  to  the  conciousness 
as  a  thoroughly  objective  reality.  Every  beginning  of  the 
myth,  especially  every  magical  conception  of  the  world,  is 
permeated  by  this  belief  in  the  existence  of  the  objective  power 
of  the  sign.  Word  magic,  picture-magic,  and  script-magic  pro- 
vide the  fundaments  of  magical  practices  and  the  magical  view 
of  the  world.  When  one  examines  the  complete  structure  of  the 
mythical  consciousness  one  can  detect  in  this  a  characteristic 
paradox.  For  if  the  generally  prevailing  conception,  that  the 
fundamental  urge  of  the  myth  is  to  vivify,  is  true,  that  is  that  it 
tends  to  take  a  concrete  view  in  the  statement  and  representa- 
tion of  all  the  elements  of  existence,  how  does  it  happen,  then, 
that  these  urges  point  most  intensely  to  the  most  unreal  and 
non- vital;  how  is  it  that  the  shadow-empire  of  words,  of 
images,  and  signs  gains  such  a  substantial  ascendancy  and  power 
over  the  mythical  consciousness?  How  is  it  that  it  possesses  this 


374  M.  F.  ASHLEY  MONTAGU 

belief  in  the  abstract,  in  this  cult  of  symbols  in  a  world  in  which 
the  general  idea  is  nothing,  the  sensation  (Empfindung),  the 
direct  urge,  the  (sensible)  psychic  perception  and  outlook  seem 
to  be  everything?  The  answer  to  this  question,  says  Cassirer, 
can  be  found  only  when  one  is  aware  of  the  fact  that  it  is 
improperly  stated.  The  mythical  world  is  not  so  concrete  that  it 
deals  only  with  psychically  'objective'  contents,  or  simply 
'abstract'  considerations,  but  both  the  thing  and  its  meaning 
form  one  distinct  and  direct  concrete  unity,  they  are  not  differ- 
entiated from  one  another.  The  myth  raises  itself  spiritually 
above  the  world  of  things,  but  it  exchanges  for  the  forms  and 
images  which  it  puts  in  their  place  only  another  form  of  restric- 
tive existence.  What  the  spirit  appears  to  rescue  from  the 
shackles  now  becomes  but  a  new  shackle,  which  is  so  much 
more  unyielding  because  it  is  not  only  a  psychical  power  but  a 
spiritual  one.  Nevertheless,  such  a  state  already  contains  in  it- 
self the  immanent  condition  of  its  future  release.  It  already 
contains  the  incipient  possibility  of  a  spiritual  liberation  which 
in  the  progress  of  the  magical-mythical  world-idea  will  even- 
tually arrive  at  a  characteristic  religious  world-idea.  During  this 
transition  it  becomes  necessary  for  the  spirit  to  place  itself  in 
a  new  and  free  relation  to  the  world  of  images  and  signs,  but, 
at  the  same  time,  in  a  different  way  than  formerly,  sees  through 
this  relationship,  and  in  this  way  raises  itself  above  it,  though 
living  it  still  and  needing  it. 

And  in  still  further  measure  and  in  greater  distinctness 
stands  for  us  the  dialectic  of  these  fundamental  relations,  their 
analysis  and  synthesis,  which  the  spirit  through  its  own  self- 
made  world  of  images  experiences,  when  we  here  compare  the 
myth  with  all  other  forms  of  symbolic  expression.  In  the  case 
of  language  also  there  is  at  first  no  sharp  line  of  separation  by 
means  of  which  the  word  and  its  meaning,  the  thing  content 
of  "idea"  and  the  simple  content  are  distinguished  from  one 
another.  The  nominalist  viewpoint,  for  which  words  are  con- 
ventional signs,  simply  flatus  vocis,  is  the  result  of  later  reflec- 
tion but  not  the  direct  expression  of  the  direct  natural  language 
consciousness.  For  this  the  existence  of  things  in  words  is  not 
only  indicated  as  indirect,  but  is  contained  and  present  in  it  any- 


MYTHOLOGICAL  THINKING  375 

way.  In  the  language  consciousness  of  the  primitive  and  in  that 
of  the  child  one  can  demonstrate  this  concrescence  of  names  and 
things  in  very  pregnant  examples — one  has  only  to  think  of 
the  different  varieties  of  the  taboo  names.  But  in  the  progression 
of  the  spiritual  development  of  language  there  is  also  here 
achieved  a  sharper  and  ever  more  conscious  separation  between 
the  Word  and  Being  or  Existence,  between  the  Meaning  and 
the  Meant.  Opposed  to  all  other  physical  being  and  all  physical 
activity  the  word  appears  as  autonomous  and  characteristic,  in 
its  purely  ideal  and  significative  function. 

A  new  stage  of  the  separation  is  next  witnessed  in  art.  Here, 
too,  there  is  in  the  beginning  no  clear  distinction  between  the 
"Ideal"  and  the  "Real."  The  beginning  of  the  formation  and 
of  the  cultivation  of  art  reaches  back  to  a  sphere  in  which  the 
act  of  cultivation  itself  is  strongly  rooted  in  the  magical  idea, 
and  is  directed  to  a  definite  magical  end,  of  which  the  picture 
(Bild)  is  yet  in  no  way  independent,  and  has  no  pure  aesthetic 
meaning.  Nevertheless  already  in  the  first  impulse  of  char- 
acteristic artistic  configurations,  in  the  stages  of  spiritual  forms  of 
expression,  quite  a  new  principle  is  attained.  The  view  of  the 
world  which  the  spirit  opposes  to  the  simple  world  of  matter 
and  of  things  subsequently  attains  here  to  a  pure  immanent 
value  and  truth.  It  does  not  attach  itself  or  refer  to  another; 
but  it  simply  /V,  and  consists  in  itself.  Out  of  the  sphere  of 
activity  (Wirksamkeit),  in  which  the  mythical  consciousness, 
and  out  of  the  sphere  of  meaning,  in  which  the  marks  of  lan- 
guage remain,  we  are  now  transferred  to  a  sphere,  in  which  so  to 
say,  only  the  pure  essence  (Sein),  only  its  own  innermost  nature 
(Wesenheii)  of  the  image  (Bildes)  is  seized  as  such.  Thus,  the 
world  of  images  forms  in  itself  a  Kosmos  which  is  complete  in 
itself,  and  which  rests  within  its  own  centre  of  gravity.  And  to 
it  the  spirit  is  now  first  able  to  find  a  free  relation.  The  aesthetic 
world  is  measured  according  to  the  measure  of  things,  the 
realistic  outlook  according  to  a  world  of  appearance: — but  since 
in  just  this  appearance  the  relation  to  direct  reality,  to  the 
world  of  being  and  action  (Wirken),  in  which  also  the  magical- 
mythical  outlook  has  its  being,  is  now  left  behind,  there  is  thus 
made  a  completely  new  step  towards  truth.  Thus  there  present 


376  M.  F.  ASHLEY  MONTAGU 

themselves  in  relation  to  Myth,  Language,  and  to  Art,  con- 
figurations which  are  linked  directly  together  in  a  certain  histori- 
cal series,  by  means  of  a  certain  systematic  progression  (Stujen- 
gang),  and  ideal  progress  (Fortschritt),  as  the  object  of  which 
it  can  be  said  the  spirit  in  its  own  creations,  in  its  self-made 
symbols,  not  only  exists  and  lives,  but  gains  its  significance. 
There  is  a  certain  pertinence,  in  this  connection,  in  that  dominant 
theme  of  HegePs  Phenomenology  of  the  Spirit,  namely,  that 
the  object  of  development  lies  in  the  comprehension  and  ex- 
pression of  the  fact  that  the  spiritual  being  is  not  only  "Sub- 
stance" but  just  as  much  "Subject."  In  this  respect  the  problems 
which  grow  out  of  a  "Philosophy  of  Mythology"  resolve 
themselves  once  more  to  such  as  arise  from  the  philosophy  of 
pure  logic.  Then  also  science  separates  itself  from  the  other 
stages  of  spiritual  life,  not  because  it  stands  in  need  of  any 
kind  of  mediation  or  intervention  through  signs  and  symbols, 
seeking  naked  truth,  the  truth  of  "things-in-themselves,"  but 
because  it  uses  the  symbols  differently  and  more  profoundly 
than  the  former  is  able  to  do,  and  recognizes  and  understands 
them  as  such,  i.e.,  as  symbols.  Furthermore,  this  is  not  accom- 
plished at  one  stroke  5  rather  there  is  here  also  repeated,  at 
a  new  stage,  the  typical  fundamental  relation  of  the  spirit  to 
its  own  creation.  Here  also  must  the  freedom  of  this  creation 
be  gained  and  secured  in  continuous  critical  work.  The  utiliza- 
tion of  hypotheses,  and  its  characteristic  function  to  advance  the 
foundations  of  knowledge,  determines  that,  so  long  as  this 
knowledge  is  not  secured,  the  principles  of  science  are  unable 
to  express  themselves  in  other  than  dinglicher,  i.e.,  material, 
or  in  half  mythical  form. 

Every  student  of  primitive  peoples  and  of  mythology  would 
recognize  in  Cassirer's  views  on  mythological  thinking,  which 
have  here  been  presented  only  partially,  a  valuable  contribution 
towards  the  clarification  of  a  difficult  problem.  In  a  brilliant 
chapter  in  which  Cassirer  discusses  "the  dialectic  of  the  mythical 
consciousness,"  he  shows  how  interrelated  and  interdependent 
the  mythical  and  religious  consciousness  are,  and  that  there  can 
really  be  no  distinction  between  themj  there  is  a  difference  in 
form,  but  not  in  substance.  An  admirable  discussion  of  the  rela- 


MYTHOLOGICAL  THINKING  377 

tion  of  "speech"  to  "language"  and  of  "sound"  to  "meaning" 
(already  dealt  with  at  length  in  the  first  volume  of  the  Sym- 
bolischen  Formen)  leads  to  a  brief  discussion  of  writing. 

Cassirer  points  out  that  all  writing  begins  as  picture-signs 
which  do  not  in  themselves  embrace  any  meaning  or  communi- 
cative characters.  The  picture-sign  takes  the  place  rather  of  the 
object  itself,  replaces  it,  and  stands  for  it. 

This  statement  is  perfectly  true  of  all  forms  of  primitive 
writing.  One  of  the  most  primitive  forms  of  writing,  for  ex- 
ample, with  which  we  are  acquainted  is  that  invented  and 
practiced  by  certain  Australian  tribes.  On  the  message  sticks 
which  they  send  from  one  tribe  to  another  the  signs  which  they 
make  fulfill  all  the  specifications  stated  by  Cassirer. 

Cassirer  also  states  that  at  first  writing  forms  a  part  of  the 
sphere  of  magic.  The  sign  which  is  stamped  on  the  object  draws 
it  into  the  circle  of  its  own  effect  and  keeps  away  strange  in- 
fluences. 

The  anthropological  data  lend  full  support  to  this  idea.  It 
may  even  be  that  the  magicians  were  the  first  to  invent  writing, 
though  it  would  at  present  be  impossible  to  prove  such  a  sug- 
gestion or  even  to  prove  that  the  magicians  were  among  the 
first  to  use  picture  signs.  The  evidence  does,  however,  suggest 
that  this  is  highly  probable. 

I  can  only  have  succeeded  in  giving  a  faint  indication  of  the 
value  and  quality  of  Cassirer's  contribution  to  our  understanding 
of  mythological  thinking  in  general  and  that  of  pre-literate 
peoples  in  particular.  To  appreciate  Cassirer's  great  work  at 
its  full  value  the  reader  is  recommended  to  go  to  the  original 
work.  This  essay  must  be  regarded  as  but  a  footnote  to  it. 

M.  F.  ASHLEY  MONTAGU 

PHILADELPHIA,  PENNA. 


II 
Susanne  K.  Langer 

ON  CASSIRER'S  THEORY  OF  LANGUAGE 
AND  MYTH 


II 

ON  CASSIRER'S  THEORY  OF  LANGUAGE 
AND  MYTH 

EVERY  philosopher  has  his  tradition.  His  thought  has  de- 
veloped amid  certain  problems,  certain  basic  alternatives  of 
opinion,  that  embody  the  key  concepts  which  dominate  his  time 
and  his  environment  and  which  will  always  be  reflected,  posi- 
tively or  by  negation,  in  his  own  work.  They  are  the  forms  of 
thought  he  has  inherited,  wherein  he  naturally  thinks,  or  from 
which  his  maturer  conceptions  depart. 

The  continuity  of  culture  lies  in  this  handing  down  of  usable 
forms.  Any  campaign  to  discard  tradition  for  the  sake  of  novelty 
as  such,  without  specific  reason  in  each  case  to  break  through  a 
certain  convention  of  thought,  leads  to  dilettantism,  whether  it 
be  in  philosophy,  in  art,  or  in  social  and  moral  institutions.  As 
every  person  has  his  mother  tongue  in  terms  of  which  he  can- 
not help  thinking  his  earliest  thoughts,  so  every  scholar  has  a 
philosophical  mother  tongue,  which  colors  his  natural  Weltan- 
schauung. He  may  have  been  nurtured  in  a  particular  school 
of  thought,  or  his  heritage  may  be  the  less  conscious  one  of 
"common  sense,"  the  popular  metaphysic  of  his  generation  5  but 
he  speaks  some  intellectual  language  that  has  been  bestowed 
on  him,  with  its  whole  cargo  of  preconceptions,  distinctions, 
and  evaluations,  by  his  official  and  unofficial  teachers. 

A  great  philosopher,  however,  has  something  new  and  vital 
to  present  in  whatever  philosophical  mold  he  may  have  been 
given.  The  tenor  of  his  thought  stems  from  the  pastj  but  his 
specific  problems  take  shape  in  the  face  of  a  living  present,  and 
his  dealing  with  them  reflects  the  entire,  ever-nascent  activity 
of  his  own  day.  In  all  the  great  periods  of  philosophy,  the  lead- 
ing minds  of  the  time  have  carried  their  traditional  learning 


382  SUSANNE  K.  LANGER 

lightly,  and  felt  most  deeply  the  challenge  of  things  which  were 
new  in  their  age.  It  is  the  new  that  calls  urgently  for  interpre- 
tation} and  a  true  philosopher  is  a  person  to  whom  something  in 
the  weary  old  world  always  appears  new  and  uncomprehended. 

There  are  certain  "dead  periods"  in  the  history  of  philosophy, 
when  the  whole  subject  seems  to  shrink  into  a  hard,  small  shell, 
treasured  only  by  scholars  in  large  universities.  The  common 
man  knows  little  about  it  and  cares  less.  What  marks  such  a 
purely  academic  phase  of  philosophical  thought  is  that  its  sub- 
stance as  well  as  its  form  is  furnished  by  a  scholastic  tradition; 
not  only  the  categories,  but  the  problems  of  debate  are  familiar. 
Precisely  in  the  most  eventful  epochs,  when  intellectual  activity 
in  other  fields  is  brilliant  and  exciting,  there  is  quite  apt  to  be 
a  lapse  in  philosophy;  the  greatest  minds  are  engaged  else- 
where; reflection  and  interpretation  are  in  abeyance  when  the 
tempo  of  life  is  at  its  highest.  New  ideas  are  too  kaleidoscopic 
to  be  systematically  construed  or  to  suggest  general  proposi- 
tions. Professional  philosophers,  therefore,  continue  to  argue 
matters  which  their  predecessors  have  brought  to  no  conclusion, 
and  to  argue  them  from  the  same  standpoints  that  yielded  no 
insight  before. 

We  have  only  recently  passed  through  an  "academic"  phase 
of  philosophy,  a  phase  of  stale  problems  and  deadlocked  "isms." 
But  today  we  are  on  the  threshold  of  a  new  creative  period. 
The  most  telling  sign  of  this  is  the  tendency  of  great  minds 
to  see  philosophical  implications  in  facts  and  problems  belong- 
ing to  other  fields  of  learning — mathematics,  anthropology, 
psychology,  physics,  history,  and  the  arts.  Familiar  things  like 
language  or  dream,  or  the  mensurability  of  time,  appear  in  new 
universal  connections  which  involve  highly  interesting  abstract 
issues.  Even  the  layman  lends  his  ear  to  "semantics"  or  to  new 
excitements  about  "relativity." 

Cassirer  had  all  the  marks  of  a  great  thinker  in  a  new  philo- 
sophical period.  His  standpoint  was  a  tradition  which  he  in- 
herited— the  Kantian  "critical"  philosophy  seen  in  the  light  of 
its  later  developments,  which  raised  the  doctrine  of  transcen- 
dental forms  to  the  level  of  a  transcendental  theory  of  Being. 
His  writings  bear  witness  that  he  often  reviewed  and  pondered 


THEORY  OF  LANGUAGE  AND  MYTH     383 

the  foundations  of  this  position.  There  was  nothing  accidental 
or  sentimental  in  his  adherence  to  it;  he  maintained  it  through- 
out his  life,  because  he  found  it  fruitful,  suggestive  of  new 
interpretations.  In  his  greatest  works  this  basic  idealism  is 
implicit  rather  than  under  direct  discussion;  and  the  turn  it 
gives  to  his  treatment  of  the  most  baffling  questions  removes  it 
utterly  from  that  treadmill  of  purely  partisan  reiteration  and 
defense  which  is  the  fate  of  decadent  metaphysical  convictions. 
There  is  little  of  polemic  or  apologetic  in  Cassirer's  writings; 
he  was  too  enthusiastic  about  solving  definite  problems  to  spend 
his  time  vindicating  his  method  or  discussing  what  to  him  was 
only  a  starting-point. 

One  of  the  venerable  puzzles  which  he  treated  with  entirely 
new  insight  from  his  peculiarly  free  and  yet  scholarly  point 
of  view  is  the  relation  of  language  and  myth.  Here  we  find 
at  the  outset  the  surprising,  unorthodox  working  of  his  mind: 
for  what  originally  led  him  to  this  problem  was  not  the  con- 
templation of  poetry,  but  of  science.  For  generations  the  advo- 
cates of  scientific  thinking  bemoaned  the  difficulties  which  nature 
seems  to  plant  in  its  path — the  misconceptions  bred  by  "igno- 
rance" and  even  by  language  itself.  It  took  Cassirer  to  see 
that  those  difficulties  themselves  were  worth  investigating. 
Ignorance  is  a  negative  condition;  why  should  the  mere  absence 
of  correct  conceptions  lead  to  w/Vconceptions?  And  why  should 
language,  supposedly  a  practical  instrument  for  conveying 
thought,  serve  to  resist  and  distort  scientific  thought?  The 
misconceptions  interested  him. 

•  If  the  logical  and  factual  type  of  thought  which  science  de- 
i  mands  is  hard  to  maintain,  there  must  be  some  other  mode  of 
thinking  which  constantly  interferes  with  it.  Language,  the 
expression  of  thought,  could  not  possibly  be  a  hindrance  to 
thought  as  such;  if  it  distorts  scientific  conception,  it  must  do 
so  merely  by  giving  preference  and  support  to  such  another 
mode. 

Now,  all  thinking  is  "realistic"  in  the  sense  that  it  deals 
with  phenomena  as  they  present  themselves  in  immediate 
experience.  There  cannot  be  a  way  of  thinking  that  is  not  true 
to  the  reports  of  sense.  If  there  are  two  modes  of  thinking, 


384  SUSANNE  K.  LANGER 

there  must  be  two  different  modes  of  perceiving  things,  of 
apprehending  the  very  data  of  thought.  To  observe  the  wind, 
for  instance,  as  a  purely  physical  atmospheric  disturbance,  and 
Mnk  of  it  as  a  divine  power  or  an  angry  creature  would  be 
purely  capricious,  playful,  irresponsible.  But  thinking  is  serious 
business,  and  probably  always  has  been  5  and  it  is  not  likely  that 
language,  the  physical  image  of  thought,  portrays  a  pattern  of 
mere  fancies  and  vagaries.  In  so  far  as  language  is  incompatible 
with  scientific  reasoning,  it  must  reflect  a  system  of  thought  that 
is  soberly  true  to  a  mode  of  experiencing^  of  seeing  and  feeling, 
different  from  our  accepted  mode  of  experiencing  "facts."1 

This  idea,  first  suggested  by  the  difficulties  of  scientific 
conception,  opened  up  a  new  realm  of  epistemological  research 
to  its  authorj  for  it  made  the  forms  of  misunderstanding  take 
on  a  positive  rather  than  a  negative  importance  as  archaic  forms 
of  understanding.  The  hypostatic  and  poetic  tinge  of  language 
which  makes  it  so  often  recalcitrant  to  scientific  purposes  is  a 
record  not  only  of  a  different  way  of  thinking,  but  of  seeing, 
feeling,  conceiving  experience — a  way  that  was  probably  para- 
mount in  the  ages  when  language  itself  came  into  being. 
The  whole  problem  of  mind  and  its  relation  to  "reality"  took 
a  new  turn  with  the  hypothesis  that  former  civilizations  may 
actually  have  dealt  with  a  "real  world"  differently  constituted 
from  our  own  world  of  things  with  their  universal  qualities 
and  causal  relationships.  But  how  can  that  older  "reality"  be 
recaptured  and  demonstrated?  And  how  can  the  change  from 
one  way  of  apprehending  nature  to  another  be  accounted  for? 

The  answer  to  this  methodological  question  came  to  him 
as  a  suggestion  from  metaphysics.  "Es  ist  der  Geist  der  sich 
den  Korper  bauty"  said  Goethe.  And  the  post-Kantian  idealists, 
from  Fichte  to  Hermann  Cohen,  had  gone  even  beyond  that 
tenet;  so  they  might  well  have  said,  "Es  ist  der  Geist  der  sich 
das  Weltall  baut"  To  a  romanticist  that  would  have  been  little 
more  than  a  figure  of  speech,  expressing  the  relative  importance 
of  mind  and  matter.  But  in  Cassirer's  bold  and  uncomplacent 
mind  such  a  belief — which  he  held  as  a  basic  intellectual  postu- 
late, not  as  a  value- judgment — immediately  raised  the  ques- 

1  Cf .  Language  and  Myth>  i  of. 


THEORY  OF  LANGUAGE  AND  MYTH     385 

tion:  How?  By  what  process  and  what  means  does  the  human 
spirit  construct  its  physical  world? 

Kant  had  already  proposed  the  answer:  By  supplying  the 
transcendental  constituent  of  form.  Kant  regarded  this  form 
as  a  fixed  pattern,  the  same  in  all  human  experience;  the  cate- 
gories of  thought  which  find  their  clearest  expression  in  science, 
seemed  to  him  to  govern  all  empirical  experience,  and  to  be 
reflected  in  the  structure  of  language.  But  the  structure  of 
language  is  just  what  modern  scientific  thought  finds  uncon- 
genial. It  embodies  a  metaphysic  of  substance  and  attribute; 
whereas  science  operates  more  and  more  with  the  concept  of 
junction,  which  is  articulated  in  mathematics.2  There  is  good 
reason  why  mathematicians  have  abandoned  verbal  propositions 
almost  entirely  and  resorted  to  a  symbolism  which  expresses 
different  metaphysical  assumptions,  different  categories  of 
thought  altogether. 

At  this  point  Cassirer,  reflecting  on  the  shift  from  substantive 
to  functional  thinking,  found  the  key  to  the  methodological 
problem:  two  different  symbolisms  revealed  two  radically  dif- 
ferent forms  of  thought;  does  not  every  form  of  Anschauung 
have  its  symbolic  mode?  Might  not  an  exhaustive  study  of 
symbolic  forms  reveal  just  how  the  human  mind,  in  its  various 
stages,  has  variously  construed  the  "reality"  with  which  it  dealt? 
To  construe  the  equivocally  "given"  is  to  construct  the  phe- 
nomenon for  experience.  And  so  the  Kantian  principle,  fructified 
by  a  wholly  new  problem  of  science,  led  beyond  the  Kantian 
doctrine  to  the  Philosophy  of  Symbolic  Forms. 

The  very  plan  of  this  work  departs  from  all  previous  ap- 
proaches to  epistemology  by  not  assuming  either  that  the 
mind  is  concerned  essentially  with  facts,  or  that  its  prime  talent 
is  discursive  reason.  A  careful  study  of  the  scientific  miscon- 
ceptions which  language  begets  revealed  the  fact  that  its  subject- 
predicate  structure,  which  reflects  a  "natural"  ontology  of 
substance  and  attribute,  is  not  its  only  metaphysical  trait.  Lan- 
guage is  born  of  the  need  for  emotional  expression.  Yet  it  is 
not  exclamatory.  It  is  essentially  hypostatic,  seeking  to  distin- 
guish, emphasize,  and  hold  the  object  of  feeling  rather  than 

*  See  Substance  and  Function,  Ch.  I. 


386  SUSANNE  K.  LANGER 

to  communicate  the  feeling  itself.  To  fix  the  object  as  a  per- 
manent focus  point  in  experience  is  the  function  of  the  name. 
Whatever  evokes  emotion  may  therefore  receive  a  name;  and, 
if  this  object  is  not  a  thing — if  it  is  an  act,  or  a  phenomenon 
like  lightning,  or  a  sound,  or  some  other  intangible  item — , 
the  name  nevertheless  gives  it  the  unity,  permanence,  and 
apparent  substantiality  of  a  "thing." 

This  hypostasis,  entailed  by  the  primitive  office  of  language, 
really  lies  deeper  even  than  nomenclature,  which  merely  reflects 
it:  for  it  is  a  fundamental  trait  of  all  imagination.  The  very  word 
"imagination"  denotes  a  process  of  image-making.  An  image 
is  only  an  aspect  of  the  actual  thing  it  represents.  It  may  be 
not  even  a  completely  or  carefully  abstracted  aspect.  Its  im- 
portance lies  in  the  fact  that  it  symbolizes  the  whole — the  thing, 
person,  occasion,  or  what-not — from  which  it  is  an  abstract. 
A  thing  has  a  history,  an  event  passes  irrevocably  away,  actual 
experience  is  transient  and  would  exhaust  itself  in  a  series  of 
unique  occasions,  were  it  not  for  the  permanence  of  the  symbol 
whereby  it  may  be  recalled  and  possessed.  Imagination  is  a 
free  and  continual  production  of  images  to  "mean"  experience — 
past  or  present  or  even  merely  possible  experience. 

Imagination  is  the  primary  talent  of  the  human  mind,  the 
activity  in  whose  service  language  was  evolved.  The  imagina- 
tive mode  of  ideation  is  not  "logical"  after  the  manner  of 
discursive  reason.  It  has  a  logic  of  its  own,  a  definite  pattern  of 
identifications  and  concentrations  which  bring  a  very  deluge  of 
ideas,  all  charged  with  intense  and  often  widely  diverse  feelings, 
together  in  one  symbol. 

Symbols  are  the  indispensable  instruments  of  conception.  To 
undergo  an  experience,  to  react  to  immediate  or  conditional 
stimuli  (as  animals  react  to  warning  or  guiding  signs),  is  not  to 
"have"  experience  in  the  characteristically  human  sense,  which 
is  to  conceive  it,  hold  it  in  the  mind  as  a  so-called  "content  of 
consciousness,"  and  consequently  be  able  to  think  about  it.3  To 
a  human  mind,  every  experience — a  sensation  of  light  or  color, 
a  fright,  a  fall,  a  continuous  noise  like  the  roar  of  breakers 

§  Cf.  Language  and  Myth,  38. 


THEORY  OF  LANGUAGE  AND  MYTH    387 

on  the  beach — exhibits,  in  retrospect,  a  unity  and  self-identity 
that  make  it  almost  as  static  and  tangible  as  a  solid  object.  By 
virtue  of  this  hypostatization  it  may  be  referred  to>  much  as  an 
object  may  be  fainted  at;  and  therefore  the  mind  can  think 
about  it  without  its  actual  recurrence.  In  its  symbolic  image  the 
experience  is  conceived,  instead  of  just  physiologically  remem- 
bered.4 

Cassirer's  greatest  epistemological  contribution  is  his  approach 
to  the  problem  of  mind  through  a  study  of  the  primitive  forms 
of  conception.  His  reflections  on  science  had  taught  him  that 
all  conception  is  intimately  bound  to  expression;  and  the  forms 
of  expression,  which  determine  those  of  conception,  are  symbolic 
forms.  So  he  was  led  to  his  central  problem,  the  diversity  of 
symbolic  forms  and  their  interrelation  in  the  edifice  of  human 
culture. 

He  distinguished,  as  so  many  autonomous  forms,  language, 
myth,  art,  and  science.5  In  examining  their  respective  patterns  he 
made  his  first  startling  discovery:  myth  and  language  appeared 
as  genuine  twin  creatures,  born  of  the  same  phase  of  human 
mentality,  exhibiting  analogous  formal  traits,  despite  their  ob- 
vious diversities  of  content.  Language,  on  the  one  hand,  seems 
to  have  articulated  and  established  mythological  concepts, 
whereas,  on  the  other  hand,  its  own  meanings  are  essentially 
images  functioning  mythically.  The  two  modes  of  thought 
have  grown  up  together,  as  conception  and  expression,  respec- 
tively, of  the  primitive  human  world. 

The  earliest  products  of  mythic  thinking  are  not  permanent, 
self-identical,  and  clearly  distinguished  "gods;"  neither  are 
they  immaterial  spirits.  They  are  like  dream  elements — objects 
endowed  with  daemonic  import,  haunted  places,  accidental 
shapes  in  nature  resembling  something  ominous — all  manner  of 
shifting,  fantastic  images  which  speak  of  Good  and  Evil,  of 
Life  and  Death,  to  the  impressionable  and  creative  mind  of 
man.  Their  common  trait  is  a  quality  that  characterizes  every- 
thing in  the  sphere  of  myth,  magic,  and  religion,  and  also  the 

4  See  An  Essay  on  Man,  chapters  2  and  3,  fassim. 
9  Language  and'  Myth^  8, 


388  SUSANNE  K.  LANGER 

earliest  ethical  conceptions — the  quality  of  holiness*  Holiness 
may  appertain  to  almost  anything;  it  is  the  mystery  that  appears 
as  magic,  as  taboo,  as  daemonic  power,  as  miracle,  and  as 
divinity.  The  first  dichotomy  in  the  emotive  or  mythic  phase 
of  mentality  is  not,  as  for  discursive  reason,  the  opposition  of 
"yes"  and  "no,"  of  "a"  and  "non-a,"  or  truth  and  falsity;  the 
basic  dichotomy  here  is  between  the  sacred  and  the  profane. 
Human  beings  actually  apprehend  values  and  expressions  of 
values  be-fore  they  formulate  and  entertain  jacts. 

All  mythic  constructions  are  symbols  of  value — of  life  and 
power,  or  of  violence,  evil,  and  death.  They  are  charged  with 
feeling,  and  have  a  way  of  absorbing  into  themselves  more 
and  more  intensive  meanings,  sometimes  even  logically  conflict- 
ing imports.  Therefore  mythic  symbols  do  not  give  rise  to  dis- 
cursive understanding;  they  do  beget  a  kind  of  understanding, 
but  not  by  sorting  out  concepts  and  relating  them  in  a  distinct 
pattern;  they  tend,  on  the  contrary,  merely  to  bring  together 
great  complexes  of  cognate  ideas,  in  which  all  distinctive  fea- 
tures are  merged  and  swallowed.  "Here  we  find  in  operation  a 
law  which  might  actually  be  called  the  law  of  the  levelling  and 
extinction  of  specific  differences,"  says  Cassirer,  in  Language  and, 
Myth.  "Every  part  of  a  whole  is  the  whole  itself,  every  speci- 
men is  equivalent  to  the  entire  species."7  The  significance  of 
mythic  structures  is  not  formally  and  arbitrarily  assigned  to 
them,  as  convention  assigns  one  exact  meaning  to  a  recognized 
symbol;  rather,  their  meaning  seems  to  dwell  in  them  as  life 
dwells  in  a  body;  they  are  animated  by  it,  it  is  of  their  essence, 
and  the  naive,  awe-struck  mind  finds  it,  as  the  quality  of  "holi- 
ness." Therefore  mythic  symbols  do  not  even  appear  to  be 
symbols;  they  appear  as  holy  objects  or  places  or  beings,  and 
their  import  is  felt  as  an  inherent  power. 

This  really  amounts  to  another  "law"  of  imaginative  con- 
ception. Just  as  specific  differences  of  meaning  are  obliterated 
in  nondiscursive  symbolization,  the  very  distinction  between 
form  and  content,  between  the  entity  (thing,  image,  gesture,  or 

6  See  Die  Philosophie  der  symbolischen  Formen,  II, 
fPp.  91-92. 


THEORY  OF  LANGUAGE  AND  MYTH     389 

natural  event)  which  is  the  symbol,  and  the  idea  or  feeling 
which  is  its  meaning,  is  lost,  or  rather:  is  not  yet  found.  This 
is  a  momentous  fact,  for  it  is  the  basis  of  all  superstition  and 
strange  cosmogony,  as  well  as  of  religious  belief.  To  believe  in 
the  existence  of  improbable  or  quite  fantastic  things  and  beings 
would  be  inexplicable  folly  if  beliefs  were  dictated  essentially 
by  practical  experience.  But  the  mythic  interpretation  of  reality 
rests  on  the  principle  that  the  veneration  appropriate  to  the 
meaning  of  a  symbol  is  focussed  on  the  symbol  itself,  which 
is  simply  identified  with  its  import.  This  creates  a  world  punctu- 
ated by  pre-eminent  objects,  mystic  centers  of  power  and  holi- 
ness, to  which  more  and  more  emotive  meanings  accrue  as 
"properties."  An  intuitive  recognition  of  their  import  takes  the 
form  of  ardent,  apparently  irrational  belief  in  the  physical 
reality  and  power  of  the  significant  forms.  This  is  the  hypostatic 
mechanism  of  the  mind  by  which  the  world  is  filled  with 
magical  things — fetishes  and  talismans,  sacred  trees,  rocks, 
caves,  and  the  vague,  protean  ghosts  that  inhabit  them — and 
finally  the  world  is  peopled  with  a  pantheon  of  permanent, 
more  or  less  anthropomorphic  gods.  In  these  presences  "reality" 
is  concentrated  for  the  mythic  imagination}  this  is  not  "make- 
believe,"  not  a  willful  or  playful  distortion  of  a  radically  differ- 
ent "given  fact,"  but  is  the  way  phenomena  are  given  to  naive 
apprehension. 

Certainly  the  pattern  of  that  world  is  altogether  different 
from  the  pattern  of  the  "material"  world  which  confronts  our 
sober  common  sense,  follows  the  laws  of  causality,  and  exhibits 
a  logical  order  of  classes  and  subclasses,  with  their  defining 
properties  and  relations,  wherfeby  each  individual  object  either 
does  or  does  not  belong  to  any  given  class.  Cassirer  has  summed 
up  the  logical  contrast  between  the  mode  of  mythic  intuition  and 
that  of  "factual"  or  "scientific"  apprehension  in  very  telling 
phrase: 

In  the  realm  of  discursive  conception  there  reigns  a  sort  of  diffuse 
light — and  the  further  logical  analysis  proceeds,  the  further  does  this 
even  clarity  and  luminosity  extend.  But  in  the  ideational  realm  of  myth 
and  language  there  are  always,  besides  those  locations  from  which  the 


390  SUSANNE  K.  LANGER 

strongest  light  proceeds,  others  that  appear  wrapped  in  profoundest 
darkness.  While  certain  contents  of  perception  become  verbal-mythical 
centers  of  force,  centers  of  significance,  there  are  others  which  remain, 
one  might  say,  beneath  the  threshold  of  meaning.8 

His  coupling  of  myth  and  language  in  this  passage  brings  us 
back  to  the  intimate  connection  between  these  two  great  sym- 
bolic forms  which  he  traces  to  a  common  origin.  The  dawn  of 
language  was  the  dawn  of  the  truly  human  mind,  which  meets 
us  first  of  all  as  a  rather  highly  developed  organ  of  practical 
response  and  of  imagination,  or  symbolic  rendering  of  impres- 
sions. The  first  "holy  objects"  seem  to  be  born  of  momentary 
emotional  experiences — fright  centering  on  a  place  or  a  thing, 
concentrated  desire  that  manifests  itself  in  a  dreamlike  image  or 
a  repeated  gesture,  triumph  that  issues  naturally  in  festive  dance 
and  song,  directed  toward  a  symbol  of  power.  Somewhere  in 
the  course  of  this  high  emotional  life  primitive  man  took  to 
using  his  instinctive  vocal  talent  as  a  source  of  such  "holy  ob- 
jects," sounds  with  imaginative  import:  such  vocal  symbols  are 
names. 

In  savage  societies,  names  are  treated  not  as  conventional  ap- 
pellations, but  as  though  they  were  physical  proxies  for  their 
bearers.  To  call  an  object  by  an  inappropriate  name  is  to  con- 
found its  very  nature.  In  some  cultures  practically  all  language 
serves  mystic  purposes  and  is  subject  to  the  most  impractical 
taboos  and  regulations.  It  is  clearly  of  a  piece  with  magic, 
religion  and  the  whole  pattern  of  intensive  emotional  symbolism 
which  governs  the  pre-scientific  mind.  Names  are  the  very  es- 
sence of  mythic  symbols;  nothing  on  earth  is  a  more  concen- 
trated point  of  sheer  meaning  than  the  little,  transient,  invisible 
breath  that  constitutes  a  spoken  word.  Physically  it  is  almost 
nothing.  Yet  it  carries  more  definite  and  momentous  import 
than  any  permanent  holy  object.9  It  can  be  invoked  at  will, 
anywhere  and  at  any  time,  by  a  mere  act  of  speech;  merely 
knowing  a  word  gives  a  person  the  power  of  using  it;  thus  it 
is  invisibly  "had,"  carried  about  by  its  possessors. 

8  Language  and  Myth,  9 1 . 

*  "Often  it  is  the  name  of  the  deity,  rather  than  the  god  himself,  that  seems 
to  be  the  real  source  of  efficacy."  (Language  and  Myth,  48) 


THEORY  OF  LANGUAGE  AND  MYTH     391 

It  is  characteristic  of  mythic  "powers"  that  they  are  com- 
pletely contained  in  every  fragment  of  matter,  every  sound,  and 
every  gesture  which  partakes  of  them.10  This  fact  betrays  their 
real  nature,  which  is  not  that  of  physical  forces,  but  of  meanings; 
a  meaning  is  indeed  completely  given  by  every  symbol  to  which 
it  attaches.  The  greater  the  "power"  in  proportion  to  its  bearer, 
the  more  awe-inspiring  will  the  latter  be.  So,  as  long  as  mean- 
ing is  felt  as  an  indwelling  potency  of  certain  physical  objects, 
words  must  certainly  rank  high  in  the  order  of  holy  things. 

But  language  has  more  than  a  purely  denotative  function. 
Its  symbols  are  so  manifold,  so  manageable,  and  so  economical 
that  a  considerable  number  of  them  may  be  held  in  one  "spe- 
cious present,"  though  each  one  physically  passes  away  before 
the  next  is  given;  each  has  left  its  meaning  'to  be  apprehended 
in  the  same  span  of  attention  that  takes  in  the  whole  series.  Of 
course,  the  length  of  the  span  varies  greatly  with  different  men- 
talities. But  as  soon  as  two  or  more  words  are  thus  taken  together 
in  the  mind  of  an  interpretant,  language  has  acquired  its 
second  function:  it  has  engendered  discursive  thought,  fb" 

The  discursive  mode  of  thinking  is  what  we  usually  call 
"reason."  It  is  not  as  primitive  as  the  imaginative  mode,  because 
it  arises  from  the  syntactical  nature  of  language;  mythic  en- 
visagement  and  verbal  expression  are  its  forerunners.  Yet  it  is 
a  natural  development  from  the  earlier  symbolic  mode,  which 
is  pre-discursive,  and  thus  in  a  strict  and  narrow  sense  "pre- 
rational." 

Henceforth,  the  history  of  thought  consists  chiefly  in  the 
gradual  achievement  of  factual,  literal,  and  logical  conception 
and  expression.  Obviously  the  only  means  to  this  end  is  lan- 
guage. But  this  instrument,  it  must  be  remembered,  has  a  double 
nature.  Its  syntactical  tendencies  bestow  the  laws  of  logic  on 
us;  yet  the  primacy  of  names  in  its  make-up  holds  it  to  the 
hypostatic  way  of  thinking  which  belongs  to  its  twin-phe- 
nomenon, myth.  Consequently  it  leads  us  beyond  the  sphere  of 
mythic  and  emotive  thought,  yet  always  pulls  us  back  into  it 
again;  it  is  both  the  diffuse  and  tempered  light  that  shows  us 
the  external  world  of  "fact,"  and  the  array  of  spiritual  lamps, 

**  Cf.  Language  and  Myth,  92. 


392  SUSANNE  K.  LANGER 

light-centers  of  intensive  meaning,  that  throw  the  gleams  and 
shadows  of  the  dream  world  wherein  our  earliest  experiences  lay. 

We  have  come  so  far  along  the  difficult  road  of  discursive 
thinking  that  the  laws  of  logic  seem  to  be  the  very  frame  of 
the  mind,  and  rationality  its  essence.  Kant  regarded  the  cate- 
gories of  pure  understanding  as  universal  transcendental  forms, 
imposed  by  the  most  naive  untutored